Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-07-22 07:40am

Stewart, I am saddened to hear there will be no more like these; I would buy your novel or some such anyhow- which may arguably be the point of having written Batman 1939 in the first place.

What I really appreciate about your stories is the comedic element, which you manage despite having serious subject matter and a firm command of the practical details of what is going on in the setting. The theater of the absurd (which the Wonder Woman segments tend to be especially rich in) has been very nice.
FaxModem1 wrote:
2017-07-21 02:37pm
Not going to give Diana the ability to talk to fauna, like she does in a few versions of the comics? I imagine that would make Rat-Catcher rather redundant though.
As noted, she'd still have to find the right rats and persuade them to help. And I'm pretty sure it's the Rat-Catcher himself who has the information about how to contact Batman, not the rats themselves.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-07-22 08:43am

Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-07-22 07:40am
Stewart, I am saddened to hear there will be no more like these; I would buy your novel or some such anyhow- which may arguably be the point of having written Batman 1939 in the first place.

What I really appreciate about your stories is the comedic element, which you manage despite having serious subject matter and a firm command of the practical details of what is going on in the setting. The theater of the absurd (which the Wonder Woman segments tend to be especially rich in) has been very nice.
Well, thank you. I'll let you folks know when I get to my next project.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by LadyTevar » 2017-07-24 03:06am

Does this mean you're going to finish this story, or leave it hanging?
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-07-24 06:49pm

LadyTevar wrote:
2017-07-24 03:06am
Does this mean you're going to finish this story, or leave it hanging?
Oh no, I'm finishing it.

Anything less would be the surrender of several years of creative effort. Not to mention cruel. I may not have many fans, but I don't ignore their investment.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by madd0ct0r » 2017-07-30 04:31pm

Yay!

I'm not sure I accept Alfred's origins. Burma should be involved.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-08-04 11:53pm

madd0ct0r wrote:
2017-07-30 04:31pm
Yay!

I'm not sure I accept Alfred's origins. Burma should be involved.
Fine.

Once during university, young Alfie went on holiday to Rangoon, reckoning it one of those outposts in the steamy orient where the food's cheap and everything's legal. Late in his sojourn, some traveling fellows suggest they hike inland to see a famous temple. But our poor chaps get more than they bargained for when the tour is set upon by a band of dacoits! These cruel highwaymen take them for ransom, and they are forced at knife-point to a jungle camp. The boys sure aren't in West Hambridgeshireton any longer! One night, after a week-long rainstorm, Alfred's bindings start to rot, and he frees himself and a nearby friend. They flee through the dark jungle, the targets of a manhunt across unfamiliar terrain. The dacoits are gaining on them, until the last moment when Alfred and his companion leap off a mighty cliff into a fast river.

The pair wash ashore downstream like half-drowned rats. They carve tools from sticks and flint and eat snakes to survive. They get sick on local plants, and struggle to find enough dry wood for a fire. Finally, they follow the river into a village, and thereafter to a fort of colonial troops who guide them to proper civilization.

Alfred returns to Cambridge and resumes his medical training, but he stays in touch with his fellow escapee, a Royal Marine veteran named Fairbairn Sykes. Eventually, Skyes joins the Shanghai Municipal Police. Shanghai was one of the most violent cities on the planet, and Skyes survives more fist, knife, and gun fights then twenty regular lawmen put together. He and his squad become pioneers in personal defense and the 'fighting' part of crimefighting.

Many years later, Alfred is helping to raise an adolescent Bruce Wayne. Bruce has decided to travel the world and learn all sorts of violent topics. Alfred tries everything to convince the boy to abandon his plan, but Bruce is determined to go. Finally, Alfred pleads that Bruce should at least start his dangerous journey by visiting one of Alfred's old friends. Bruce concedes, not expecting to stay long with some near-retired old British fart for very long. He takes a steamer to Shanghai.

At first, the polite and whippet-thin Inspector Skyes doesn't impress Bruce. However, Bruce is clever enough to notice his host is mostly scar tissue, and that piques his interest. Instead of finding an excuse to leave, Bruce asks the old cop for a lesson or two.

It proves a fruitful decision.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-08-10 09:02pm

The next bit's coming soon, but I'd like to share some other thoughts on where I would have taken the series.

I had many ideas for another Catwoman story, but there was one joke I especially liked. There would be a discussion on Selina's aspirations. In a vulnerable moment, Selina would say that she always dreamed of being a lounge singer* - dressed in something slinky, draped over a piano, etc. When asked why she doesn't do that instead of crime, she would admit that she just can't sing.

The real joke comes when we learn Batman can sing. He's a natural; it's the one skill he never had to practice. Of course, he hasn't used this gift in decades; Bruce Wayne stays deliberately off-pitch. But does he reveal his gift to Selina? No. He keeps it a secret. The bittersweet conclusion comes when he can't decide whether he kept this a secret to avoid getting too friendly or to keep from hurting her feelings.

Also, he knew she would want a demonstration. That would be unacceptable.

---

Lex Luthor would be a wide-reaching antagonist in the mold of Amanda Waller who could show up and cause trouble anywhere. Where Waller embodied unrestrained military and state power, Luthor would likewise represent unrestrained economic and celebrity power. Like Waller, Lex Luthor sees himself as a patriot. Unlike Waller, Luthor is utterly egotistical; his patriotism is a sort of noblesse oblige.

How this works in his twisted mind would be starkly reveled when someone, perhaps Batman, discovers that, through tremendously subtle means, Luthor is supporting the Nazi war machine. Shameless, he defends his actions. His moral conviction is to encourage meritocracies (since he is the greatest person alive, a meritocracy would naturally crown him). Capitalist markets and democratic governments are fairly meritocratic in his eyes, and thus worth supporting (for now). But there are two great forces in the world which endanger meritocracy: communism and fascism. He sees an opportunity to save the world when each ideology's champion (Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany) decide to fight. The Eastern Front is a blessing in disguise, and he wants it to cost as much treasure and blood as possible. Happily, their governments are content to fight as long as they have the means, and so he'll do whatever he can to enable them. If enough millions of communists and fascists kill each other, it would ruin the two superpowers for a generation, leaving the world in America's (ie, his) hands. The Battle of Stalingrad is Luthor's Christmas.

Most importantly, one way or another, Lex Luthor would be the source of this scene:

Luthor sneaks into a secret uranium processing facility - his mind filled with schemes. Inside, workers are storing plates of uranium oxide (aka, yellowcake**, the processed uranium ore) onto a cart for enrichment. When no one is looking, Luthor takes the cart. He dashes away with the uranium. As he escapes, two workers catch sight of him.

Worker 1: Hey! Lex Luthor took forty cakes!
Worker 2: He took 40 cakes?
Worker 1: That's as many as four tens!
Worker 2: That's terrible!

---

To this day, I don't have strong ideas of what to do with the Joker. Nothing that feels fresh.

I also feel this, to a lesser degree, about Superman. I could think of something if pressed, probably, but I haven't.

---

I had a trippy idea for Atlantis. Not saying I would ever make it canon - it's pretty stupid - but it appeals to me. Aquaman does not rule the seas completely, there are other undersea factions at arm's length to his sovereignty and a few outright rebels (so far, this doesn't conflict with what little I know of Aquaman canon). Gotham's Innsmouth, of Lovecraft fame, is the nearest port to one such Atlantian rebel group. After some nasty business in the 20s, the Feds got ... wait for it ... fed up, and decided to bomb this settlement. The attack was partly successful but caused reprisals and which led to a prolonged secret war off the coast. One time, the military sent a submarine down to put boots on the ground (er, seabed). It forcibly docked with an Atlanian city. The troops discovered A: oxygen, and B: the huge structure was a sort of no-man's land contested by several splinter groups, each steadily reinforced by fresh warriors from various undersea powers (think modern Syria). The American expedition was greatly outnumbered and caught in the crossfire. All but one were killed in action within a day. The survivor? Sgt. Frank Rock.

Readers of Batman 1939 may assume that Lt. Slade Wilson is the most all-around capable infantryman in Uncle Sam's employ. Wilson actually takes second place. If Wilson is, say, a Call of Duty protagonist on Realistic, then Rock is the DOOM marine. For no adequate reason, he routinely routs enemy platoons and seems functionally unkillable.

Sgt. Rock eventually reverse-engineered an Atlantian radio and has contact with the surface. However, the original submarine that brought him was destroyed by a hostile sub on its return, and the Navy isn't willing to send another on rescue mission. The Navy does however send supplies (they sink through the permeable "roof" of the city). Rock is stuck down there, alone on a battlefield that's the visual intersection of Rapture, a Covenant battle-cruiser, and the Little Mermaid. He spends his days fighting to reach supply drops, fighting to observe the latest newcomers to the fray, and fighting to protect his camp. His superiors don't know what to do with him. His tentative mission is to keep any group from controlling the settlement, lest it be used as an staging area to invade the surface dwellers.

He's been at this for a year.

Not sure how I'd get Batman involved. I'd find a way.

---

Speaking of the strangely unkillable, I had a list of Bruce Wayne's mentors, and among those I most wanted to write (and did write a bit) was Jonah Hex. Young Bruce's chief obsession is that there aren't any surefire protections against guns, so he looks for ways to even the odds. In his desperate search, he has the idea to interview people who have been frequently shot at and maybe learn survival tips. He realizes Jonah, a legend of the Old West, is still alive. The man was a soldier, scout, sheriff, outlaw, bounty hunter, bodyguard, prospector, strike breaker, and Indian agent. He served in one of the most active regiments in the Confederate Army and later survived twenty recorded gun fights as a civilian. There are warrants for his arrest across much of North America.

Bruce treks out to his remote cabin, bribes him with a pack full of beef jerky, and wins some advice.

Their first interaction:

Jonah: Ah, hell, you ain't my son, ain't ya?
Bruce: No. Mr. Hex, I'm only seventeen.
Jonah: So?
Bruce: Uh, well, you're ninety-three.
Jonah: Boy, I'm old. I'm not dead.

---

I'm a long-time fan of the Assassin's Creed series. It is rife with flaws in every aspect, but there's a compelling soul underneath. Few franchises show such unrealized promise.

Anyway, it occurred to me long ago that the Order of Assassins makes an excellent analogue to DC's League of Assassins (aka, League of Shadows; it's not clear whether the terms are interchangeable). Both are ancient secret global orders who use violence and other dark tools to shape history toward some notion of the greater good, and this notion is tinged with apocalyptic dogma. Both recruit talented radicals which they indoctrinate with their secrets. Both have access to mystic powers. Both are fond of blades long after blades are out of fashion.

The fun twist is that the Creed assassins are good guys, and the League are bad guys. Regardless, I thought: then who are the Templars?

There are some solid contenders, but I choose the Court of Owls.

In Batman 1939, the Court and the League are old enemies like the Templar and Assassin Orders. The Court of Owls here being an illuminati-like group forming in England and the Low Countries during the High Middle Ages. They seek members either in actual roles of authority or, more often, kingmakers and puppeteers behind the official authorities. They had typical Enlightenment goals before it was cool: urbanization, commerce, down with absolute monarchs, down with superstition. They like progress, which they define as winning their domains more wealth, knowledge, and clout. They build things up.

The League of Assassins has opposite goals, they like to tear things down, and they enjoy absolute monarchs and cults so long as its their cult and their monarch. The League, which had long operated in Asia, was moving into Western Europe, and the two groups clashed. The Court of Owls achieved a rare feat in even recognizing their enemy. The two groups chased mystic tools and other underhanded resources in their shadowy fight. Eventually, the Court succeeded in driving the League out of the region.

Driving out the professional anarchy-spreaders was a not-inconsiderable part of the success of early modern Europe. Naturally, when Europe colonized the New World, the Court came along ...

And If there's one thing Ra's al Ghul can do, it's nurse a grudge.

---

*Lounge music hit its stride in the 50s, but you get the idea. In-story, Catwoman would call it a bar singer or similar.

**I believe the term yellowcake comes from the 50s. I don't care.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by LadyTevar » 2017-08-11 01:21pm

The term in the 1920-30s would be Vaudeville Musician, or Dancehall Girl
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-08-11 06:28pm

Stewart, all these ideas are good, except Europa... eh fuckit, Europa's good too. :P
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-08-12 05:38pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-08-11 06:28pm
Stewart, all these ideas are good, except Europa... eh fuckit, Europa's good too. :P
Thanks, but what is Europa? I don't remember mentioning anything by that name.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by SCRawl » 2017-08-12 10:37pm

Stewart M wrote:
2017-08-12 05:38pm
Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-08-11 06:28pm
Stewart, all these ideas are good, except Europa... eh fuckit, Europa's good too. :P
Thanks, but what is Europa? I don't remember mentioning anything by that name.
I believe that Simon is calling back to to film (and novel) 2010, near the conclusion of which the message:
ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS - EXCEPT EUROPA.
ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.

...is relayed to humanity.

It's a deep cut, to be sure.
73% of all statistics are made up, including this one.

I'm waiting as fast as I can.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-08-13 10:30am

SCRawl wrote:
2017-08-12 10:37pm
Stewart M wrote:
2017-08-12 05:38pm
Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-08-11 06:28pm
Stewart, all these ideas are good, except Europa... eh fuckit, Europa's good too. :P
Thanks, but what is Europa? I don't remember mentioning anything by that name.
I believe that Simon is calling back to to film (and novel) 2010, near the conclusion of which the message:
ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS - EXCEPT EUROPA.
ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.

...is relayed to humanity.

It's a deep cut, to be sure.
Yeah, I did not know about that.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-08-20 09:33pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 22: Making Good Impressions​

There were two hundred and thirty skyscrapers in the Gotham City skyline. This was a record, but quantity alone did not define a city. Gotham skyscrapers were unmistakable because they were tight. In a typical (some said well-adjusted) large city - Chicago or Metropolis - tall buildings were like mesas in the desert, Each stood alone, separated by boulevards and squares. Even alleys were a buffer. But Gotham’s towers grew like trees in a jungle, where foliage crossed above and roots mixed below and vines tied trunk to trunk. It was an architecture of friction. Every city had underbrush, that low weave of shops and townhouses and churches, but Gotham took this brick-to-brick proximity and made it vertical. The street canyons were cluttered with cables and bridges. There were clotheslines and baluster decks at every level. Roads stacked upon rails upon roads five layers deep. Pipes carrying a dozen contents and odors arched so high, their shadows covered the seagulls and the rooftop signs for starched shirts.

Of course, Gotham had no monopoly on claustrophobia. Other cities built tight avenues. When in doubt, the other feature that distinguished Gotham was its most Gothic decoration, its menacing grotesques (laymen called them gargoyles, but this was only true for those with waterspouts; the rest were grotesques). These stone carvings were legion in the city, their cold eyes leering from every cornice and ledge. Finding a street without twenty grosteques hiding somewhere, somewhere in the eaves above was a challenge.

Wonder Woman leaned against a eagle-shaped grotesque and surveyed the city. Gotham wasn’t pleasant to behold during the day, but at least it didn’t seem savage. The patterns of the tiny cars below could have been the innards of a clock or an ant colony. Not flattering comparisons, but nothing degenerate. No one crusaded to rid the world of clocks or ants.

Well, she conceded, perhaps someone around here did.

The bells of an unseen clock thundered the hour. It was five in the afternoon. Otis the Ratcatcher had been clear in his instructions: visit the roof of this abandoned building at five in the afternoon to hear the Batman’s response. Wonder Woman looked around. She was alone, but she would wait; she had little else to do. Thirty minutes later, she was about to leave when she heard someone struggling up the fire escape. She looked over the edge of the roof. It was Otis the Ratcatcher. He wasn’t wearing his mask, and there were six rats on his shoulders and head and another in his coat pocket.

He looked up and waved. “Hello!”

Wonder Woman waved back, and when he reached the top, she helped him onto the roof. He huffed, and his rats scattered away. “Sorry I’m late. I’m not used to keeping to a schedule.” He patted fur off his coat. “Hope you ain’t too cross.”

Woman Woman was cross, but she was moreso gripped with anticipation. “Thank you for seeing me.”

“My pleasure. Here, let me show you one of my residences.”

“You own property?”

“Well, ‘own’ is a strong word.” The Ratcatcher went to a loose roof tile and slid it aside. “Come on in.”

Under the tile was a rope ladder leading to a small room lit by two dusty windows. There were three plush chairs and a dirty bed. In the corners were piles of trinkets – from wedding rings to marbles. The room smelled like mildew and soft cheese and despair.

Wonder Woman followed the Ratcatcher down and stood awkwardly while he paced around.

“Here we are! Welcome, my dear, to Casa del, uh, me.”

Wonder Woman held up a finger. “I believe you mean casa del mio.”

“You speak Spanish?”

“Yes!”

“Huh. Who’da thunk it?”

“I thunked it. But it took great practice.”

“You’re not from around here are you?”

“I am a visitor to this nation.”

“No kidding.”

“I’m glad we meet above the ground.”

“My doctor says I need more sunlight. And he keeps wanting to give me a rabies vaccine. So I met him halfway.”

What is this place?”

“Back in the day, some land baron had the idea to lease properties on this street to the local political clubs. Being close together was supposed to ‘foster democracy’ or some tripe. They were all abandoned after the mayoral election of ‘34. No one’s touched’em since.”

“What happened in the mayoral election of ‘34?”

“Kid, if you ain’t knowing, you ain’t want’a know.”

“What was this building?”

“This here property was an office for the Gotham Republicans.”

Wonder Woman pointed out a window. “And that vacant lot across the street?”

“That old plot used to be the Democrats.”

“And that one?”

“ That property was with the Farmer-Labor Party.”

“And that one?”

“That’s a Communist plot.”

“Oh.”

“Yep, they’re everywhere.”

“Otis, thank you for showing me this, but were you able to contact Batman?”

He smiled and stuck his thumbs under his armpits. “Sure was.”

“And what did he say?”

“Oh, he’s all too happy to meet you.”

“Excellent! Where? When?”

“That’s where things get interesting.”

“How?”

“I do have a time and a place, but I also got some rules. He says you follow these rules or he doesn’t show his face. Er, hood. Mask. Whatever he’s got. Hat? Could be a hat.”

“What are the rules?”

“He’ll meet you at the old Seaside Smelting plant just south of Tricorner Shipping. Come at midnight tonight.”

“Okay.”

“Come alone. If he sees anyone else around, he’s gone.”

“Fine.”

“Come unarmed. No spear. Oh, I should mention that I told him you had a spear.”

“Otis!”

“Sorry. I was trying to make conversation with the guy, and that’s a real challenge. Carrying a spear seemed noteworthy. Sue me. But don’t bring any weapons, okay? And don’t sue me.”

“Fine.”

“Now, when you show up, he says there’s going to be a radio in the middle of the building. It’s out in the open. Can’t miss it. He told me that he doesn’t want to meet you in person until he talks to you through this radio. Guess he’s worried you’re up with cooties or something. Get to the radio, speak into the handset, and he’ll introduce himself.”

“Is that all?”

“That was about it. Good luck with this guy. He’s always nice to me, of course, but I can’t promise he’ll be like that for every- hey, where are you going?”

Wonder Woman was briskly climbing the ladder back to the roof. “I must find this site now so I don’t get lost tonight.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay longer? I'll teach you how to speak English like an American, or as we call it in America, correctly.”

“No, but that’s very generous.”

“Come on, I think I have some potato fritters around here. Uh, some cans of Spam. Most of a checkers set.”

Wonder Woman reached the roof and looked down. “Thank you again, Otis. I owe you dearly. My obligations are urgent, but I hope we meet once more.”

“Right! Of course. Sure, I have urgent obligations of my own. Lots of, uh, urgent stuff going on down here. You know what they say: a ratcatcher’s work is never done.”

Wonder Woman nodded. “I have never heard anyone say that. Farewell.” She slid the roof tile back into place and disappeared.

Ratcatcher sighed and sat in one of his chairs. There was nice weather out today. But he was often underground, so any weather was interesting.

Four rats raced over pushing a checkers set. They perched on their hind legs, lifting the board with their snouts.

Ratcatcher glanced down. “Nah. Some other time. I’m not in the mood.”

The rats stared up in shock, then they turned and shuffled away, their tails dragging even lower than usual.

---​

Seaside Smelting was a three story box of corrugated metal colored every shade of the rust rainbow. It was built right along the harbor, and half the structure was actually over the water, supported by pier struts. The site was isolated. It was the only building on one side of a four-lane road deep in the coastal wasteland between the big shipyards and the big dockyards.

Wonder Woman reached the site an hour early. For the first forty minutes, she found a perch atop a empty factory on the other side of the road and watched. Seaside Smelting had one land entrance, a open garage door. No one appeared. Wonder Woman walked around the land half of the building. She found nothing interesting. She gazed across the water. Toward the horizon was the usual line of enormous freighters, faint shadows in the night, but the only nearby object afloat was a common navigational buoy.

Wonder Woman took a deep breath and walked to the open door. There was a freestanding sign nearby. It read:


WARNING!

DO NOT ENTER!

THAT MEANS YOU!

This site has been condemned for flagrant lead, mercury, tin, and phosphorus leakage. Standing water, all structural surfaces, and the ambient air should be considered poisonous to breathe or touch.

- Gotham City Bureau of Condemnation​

Wonder Woman stepped forward and peered into the structure from the entrance. It was dark, though from what she could see, it was just an empty industrial plant. She called out, “Hello?” There was no answer. She called again. “I am unarmed and alone. I come to parlay.” Still no answer. Wonder Woman slowly walked into the room. She held her head high. “Sir, our meeting was … discordant, but I bear no enmity, and I beg you extend me the same courtesy tonight. Please come out.”

A lone ceiling light flickered on, illuminating a circle of cement floor ahead of her. Wonder Woman resisted a flinch, but the lit space was so empty it was clean. She didn’t see any trash or discarded furnishings, just rows of columns reaching to the rafters. She walked into the circle of light. “I come in amicable temperament, but I am not foolish. You could harm me here. I put myself at your mercy as a show of good intention. I pray you have honor and will not take advantage. Do you have honor?”

Another ceiling light flickered on ahead, guiding her forward. When she reached its center, the first light behind her shut off. Wonder Woman resisted the urge to look back. She set her jaw and stepped forward. Another light came on ahead. This light revealed a column in the center of the room. Painted at eye level was a crude yellow outline of a bat. There was a boxy device on the floor below it: a radio.

Wonder Woman approached, pivoting back and forth to stare into the darkness. Nothing moved. After one final look around, she crouched and inspected the radio. It seemed inactive. She lifted the handset from its cradle.

There was a clicking in the rafters. Several large nets covered her from above. Wonder Woman made a noise in surprise, then it turned to bafflement. She grasped handfuls of the netting and inspected it. The nets weren't fabric; they were metal, like chains linked together in a mesh. She was draped with loose layers of this dense mesh. The impact hadn’t even hurt.

Wonder Woman called upward. “Really?” She stood and began to pull the nets off. Then the light turned off. There was a mechanical noise in the floor below her feet, and she felt a slight warmth against her boots. Suddenly, the nets were twice as heavy. Her shoulders sagged. Then the weight of the nets doubled again, then again, then again. Her head bent and her knees shook. Wonder Woman struggled to keep her balance, disoriented in the pitch dark. The heavy chains rubbed harshly on her skin as they they pressed against her. She saw sparks near the floor: the radio fizzed and crackled as something ruptured inside it.

The nets grew heavier still, and this finally brought her down. Wonder Woman toppled to the cement, unable to even lift her arms to brace herself. She bucked and twisted, trying to free herself, but it was no use. It was as if a large car was parked on her limbs. Her bronze breastplate was unbroken, so it didn’t constrain her chest, but breathing was still a struggle from the pressure on her face. She paused to rest and discovered that the cement was warm against her cheek, and she could hear the faint drone of a machine under the floor.

The single light turned back on. There was a beat of steady footsteps from out of the darkness. Wonder Woman expended a great effort and rolled onto her hip. Ten yards away, near the edge of the shadows, stood Batman. He looked very different tonight. Much of his impressive armor was gone, and he wore no cape. Instead he wore an elaborate harness, and it was attached to a pair of ropes descending from somewhere in the darkness above. On his back was fastened a sort of cylinder. In his hands he carried an odd metal staff roughly half his height. There was an antenna extending over his shoulder. At his belt were clipped an array of devices like the handset with a plenitude of buttons and switches.

He wore no expression and seemed content to stare.

Wonder Woman struggled to hide her annoyance and called out to him. “It is said that a warrior may be judged by the desperation of her opponent,” Diana lifted her head off the floor. “So I offer my thanks,” her head trembled and snapped back down, “For this high commendation.”

Batman slowly circled her, keeping to the edge of the light. Wonder Woman tried to keep an eye on him.

Finally, he spoke, “You were told to come unarmed.”

“I carry no arms.”

“You brought that cord.” He nodded at her golden lasso at her side.

“That ... comes with the outfit.”

“You wore the outfit.”

“That comes with the mission.”

“What’s your mission?”

“Release me now.”

“No.”

“I don’t need weapons to hurt you.”

“That’s why I won’t release you.”

“Then I’ll free myself.” Wonder Woman managed to slide her hands together under the net. She grasped some netting near her waist and pulled it apart. The metal links snapped, leaving a small gap. She grabbed more and pulled again.

Batman lifted his staff and sighted down it like a rifle. It spat a ball of liquid fire that landed high on her calves. The fire cooked. Wonder Woman cried out, then bit back her cry with a snarl.

Batman was impassive. “Don’t do that.”

Wonder Woman took a deep breath and waited for the pain to ebb. “You manly fiend.”

“What’s your name?”

She took another deep breath and glowered at him. “Diana.”

“Diana, you asked our-” he paused, “-mutual acquaintance for my help. What do you want?”

"I asked for Batman’s help.”

“Yes?”

“Your voice rings true. Yet voices can be mimicked. You cover your face like an outlaw. Perhaps you have merely met this Batman. Or you conspire with him. How am I to know you are who you claim?"

“You’re doubting whether I’m Batman.”

“Some have claimed Batman is valiant. You are a knave.”

"Your earlobes are asymmetrical."

"What?" Diana frowned and wiggled her ears.

"The difference is invisible unless your hair is lifted, such as when you're sprinting or falling or flipped upside-down. I’ve seen you do all three."

"What is asymmetrical about them?"

"Also, when you tense your muscles, they show vein striations with a clarity that would impress a bodybuilder. That’s virtually unseen in women. I suspect people don’t notice because you rarely put your muscles under genuine strain."

“Are you saying-”

“We’ve met. What do you want?”

“I tried to be patient, but I will not talk through this humiliation. Free me.”

“No.”

“You will regret your acts.”

“You’re still talking.”

Do you really think I came alone?”

“Yes.”

“My allies will not wait forever. They will come for you”

“There’s no one outside, Diana.”

“They don’t wait nearby. Do you believe the armies of America employ amateurs?”

“If that was meant to shock me, I knew you were with the military. And no one followed you here except me.”

“No one you could track. Do you think I’m swiftest of my sisters? The cleverest?”

Batman paused and didn’t respond.

She continued. “You believe me strong? I’m a lamb against their strength. Are my eyes keen? The eldest of my kin spy across a mile on moonless nights. You could tie bells to your feet and they would hunt you just as easily.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“My sisters bluff much better. Did you really think the world contained just one of me? Does the military ever requisition just one of anything?”

Batman stood in thought. He subconsciously opened and closed his hand. Then he pulled a buckle on his harness and flew upward as his two ropes retracted.

The moment he was out of sight, Wonder Woman instantly resumed the fight against her heavy nets. Inch by inch she tore the layers of chains apart. Finally she could reach a hand through all of them, then an arm. A beam of fire spat out of the rafters and cut across her. She cringed against the pain and continued to tear. Another glowing beam sped down, but she had enough slack to roll aside, missing the worst of it. Finally she crawled out of the nets and stood.

The light shut off. Wonder Woman heard movement in the rafters. She felt ahead for the column. Then all the lights in the room began to strobe, randomly flashing with great speed. Wonder Woman had never seen a strobe light before, and the effect of two dozen of them was overpowering. She had trouble standing, not knowing up from down.

Another ball of fire landed between her shoulders. The heat wash knocked her over, but the sting of boiling skin provided clarity. Wonder Woman closed her eyes and stepped from memory. Soon she found the nearby column. Wonder Woman took two steps up the column then jumped. Her arm-span was just wide enough to reach around two faces of it. She hugged it tight, wrapping her legs around as well. Eyes shut, she shuffled upward a few feet then tucked her feet and kicked upward again. She reached above and her hands brushed wood. She seized it. Wonder Woman opened her eyes. The lamps were below her here and less disorienting. She could she the rafter she was hanging from through the blinking haze. Her muscles bunched and she pulled her way up.

In the dancing shadows, she saw a figure ten planks away. She sped forward, hopping nimbly between the rafters. Then the lights cut off. Wonder Woman was mid-leap and almost missed the next rafter. She tripped and landed hard on her stomach, almost falling. The room was black again, but she wouldn’t be denied. Wonder Woman unwound a length of her lasso and willed it to light, then held it ahead like a lantern. She could no longer see the retreating figure, but there was just enough illumination to judge her next jumps.

Out of the darkness, another ball of fire shot across the room. It reflected in the metal ceiling above as it sped her way. Wonder Woman ducked, swinging under her rafter like a sloth. The fire splashed against a column, and small flames licked along the wood, but she was untouched. Wonder Woman swung back up and continued her dim pursuit. She moved across the rafters and finally saw Batman at the edge of her glow. He turned to face her. She charged him. He lifted his staff, but instead of a jet of fire, a familiar shower of sparks gushed out the end. Their brilliance blinded her, and she cringed at a memory. He stepped forward and stabbed high. She blocked the strike with her bracers, an enormous heat rolling down her arms. He pulled back and stabbed again, then again. She deflected the second attack, but the third brushed her shoulder and she bucked backward, nearly falling to the floor.

Batman used her distraction to withdraw. He leaned over and carefully jumped to the next rafter, then continued on. Woman Woman found her senses and followed, but when she landed on her next rafter, there was a puff of smoke from the joint at either end. The rafter fell.

Wonder Woman plummeted to the cement below. Five other rafters fell around her, but she was too stunned to notice. Her ears rang. Then the strobe lights started again. Even flat on the floor she felt dizzy.

But through the flashes, Wonder Woman saw a square of moonlight open high on the wall. A figure moved through it. She struggled her feet and half-crawled, half-stumbled to the wall. The last column was only a few feet from the wall. With a running start, she wall-kicked to the column, then kicked to the wall, then back, bounding higher with every move.

Wonder Woman caught the edge of the high opening and felt the sea breeze in her face. She blinked away the strobe-spots. There was a balcony here with a small gargoyle. There was a thin tied around its head. Wonder Woman looked down and saw the cable stretched down over the water. The other end was tied to the buoy, and Batman was using the cable to zip-line towards it. As he approached, the waters around the buoy frothed. A motorboat popped to the surface. Batman reached the buoy, unhooked his harness from the rope, and stepped onto the motorboat.

Wonder Woman sucked down her pain. When her limbs felt strong again, she climbed the gargoyle, then hopped onto the cable. As she surfed down the slick cable, she saw the motorboat had started forward, chopping through the gentle waves. Wonder Woman quickly accelerated to a remarkable speed, and when she reached the buoy, she jumped.

Wonder Woman dived through the air and caught the rudder of the motorboat. Foam smothered her face. Batman turned at the impact, but before he could act, Wonder Woman reached into the propeller. She grimaced but soon the propeller jammed against her arm. She grasped a blade, gave a mighty heave, and yanked it out.

The motorboat glided to a stop. She couldn’t see much in the night, but she could feel the dozens of cuts across her hand and forearm thanks to the salt water. Batman leaned over the stern, a silhouette in the starlight. He pointed his staff at her, sparks trickling from its end.

“If you try to climb aboard, I’m going to hurt you again.”

Wonder Woman floated steadily and looked up at him. “If you don’t let me climb aboard, I’m going to dive under your boat and tear it apart.” She appraised his equipment and lifted an eyebrow. “Can you swim in that?”

Batman considered this. Then he lowered his weapon, took a knee, and offered her an arm. Wonder Woman grasped it, and Batman pulled her aboard.

“You’re alone tonight, aren’t you.”

“That didn’t sound like a question.”

“It wasn’t.”

“I am.”

He nodded. “What did you want?”

Wonder Woman pulled strands of wet hair out of her face, then she crossed her arms and looked pointedly at him. “First, an apology.”

“For?”

“I requested a peaceful meeting, and you abused that trust.”

“I was as gentle as possible.”

She scoffed. “I faced the worst you could prepare for me.”

“No you didn’t.” Batman pulled a gadget from his belt and pressed a trigger.

Back at the Seaside Smelting building, there were several flashes of light from inside. A slow roar echoed across the water. The roof buckled, the walls collapsed, and the entire building was consumed in a burning cloud that rolled into the sky.

Wonder Woman watched mutely until the cloud dispersed. “I suppose that was the worst you could prepare for me.”

Batman head-shrugged as he watched the fire. “It’s in the same ballpark.”

She contemplated the flames. “What is a ballpark?”

He slowly turned and stared at her.

Wonder Woman didn’t notice. She asked, “Will the police and fire officials not confront this?”

“They’ll be here in twenty minutes. How’s your arm?”

Wonder Woman looked at her cuts with stoic disregard. “I endure.”

“Good. Here.” Batman tossed two paddles at her.

She caught them. “You’re asking me to row?”

“Sometime in the next twenty minutes.”

“Why should I?”

“You’re stronger than me. You broke my propeller. And last time you broke my hand.”

“Your hand worked well enough tonight.”

“I endure.”

Wonder Woman looked annoyed but sat down and got to work. “Did you need to destroy the building?”

“It was filled with explosives. Leaving them for someone to find would have been irresponsible.”

“But you contaminated the air with lead and mercury and tin and phosphorus.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it.”

She paddled in thought, then asked. “How did you make those nets so heavy?”

Batman busied himself at the front of the boat. “Magic.”

“Ah. Of course.”

He slowly turned and stared at her.

---​

A week ago. The abandoned Seaside Smelting plant.

Matches Malone marched through the site in a hard hat and one of his trademark ugly suit – this model a gruesome plaid periwinkle. A gaggle of construction workers followed behind him.

“Alright then, ya mugs, I want one of those electromagnets they got in junkyards back there under that chalk outline. A big one, yeah, the kind that lifts a truck. And then up there,” he pointed to the ceiling, “Find a way to put in a motorized pulley that moves laterally on a track roughly twenty yards that-a-ways, and another big hole in the wall over there. Then let's wire up the electromagnet to city power if we can, but add a backup generator made to look like a old packing crate. Stick that outside. Then I need about twenty hooks on the ceiling with remote control hinges. I’ll show you the catalog. Let's run a radio antenna on the roof so we can use them at a distance. Oh, and make sure there isn't anything ferrous within ten yards of the magnet. Or flammable. Those puppies get hot. In fact, let's add an extra layer of cement under there. Any questions so far?”

One of the workers, a young woman with a loose ponytail, raised her hand. “Yuh, Mr. Malone?”

Malone pointed it at her. “Yo.”

“Why we wanna put a magnet in the middle of this floor anyway? Those are expensive.”

“Hey, dollface, do I pay you to ask questions?”

“You just said-”

“Listen, honey-”

“It’s Jenna.”

“Tootsie-pop, if you gotta know, I run a little automotive import/export gig, and I happen to be dealing with some characters who I trust even less than your sorry faces, see? This little joint is gonna be a detail shop for high-margin accessories on the sly, eh? But I don't want any punks getting wise and thinking they can nick my wheels. Matches Malone don't like that none. If anyone tries to high-tail it in the merchandise, I can flip a switch and keep the car stuck.”

“Then shouldn't we add a garage door or something?”

“Fine, but don’t bother with a motor. Just leave it open.”

“Look, Mr. Malone, you don’t have to worry about keeping your real reasons for this place a secret. If it's some sort of creepy torture thing you can just tell us.”

Another worker shrugged. “Wouldn't be the first time.”

A third said, “We've seen creepier.”

Jenna recalled, “Remember the lady with the stuffed animals?”

The second worker said, “And she wanted us to hide all those sawblades?”

The third nodded. “At least she tipped nice.”

“And she had that great lemonade.”

“That was good lemonade.”

“Except for the sawblades.”

Malone clapped in their faces. “Hey, quiet you mooks. And I want someone to post that there warning sign in the front yard.”

Jenna read the sign and backed away. “Whoa, that’ll cost ya, Mr. Malone.”

“What! You nickel-n-dime me at putting up a sign?”

“Well it’s a liability. The Bureau of Condemnation don’t mess around.”

The third worker chimed in. “Yeah, they’s almost as rough as the meat inspectors.”

---​

The present.

Wonder Woman reached a comfortable rowing pace, and Batman noted that it would qualify her for the Olympic team - supposing they had a women’s rowing team. He took off his cylinder and harness and laid them down with his staff. Then he found a place to sit across from her and stared.

The Amazons agreed with Men on this: eye contact was a sensitive thing, and starting was rude. Wonder Woman felt especially uncomfortable because she couldn’t see his eyes. It was impossible to say where he was looking. She tried to stare back, but it felt like staring at a wall.

Then, with no prompting, he spoke. “What does the military want from me?”

Wonder Woman gave this question more consideration than he expected. “Your incarceration, I imagine.”

Batman offered no reaction except for silence. Finally, he said, “You’re not American. You did work with the military, but that stopped recently. The breakup was on bad terms, probably something that happened overseas. Now you want to hurt the military, or at least do something they won’t like. You need an ally, and by reputation I’m the last person who would betray you to the authorities. Otis Flanagan was a happy accident; you ran into him trying to retrace my steps.” He paused. “Am I right?”

“In the essentials.”

“Where are you from, Diana?”

“Themyscira.”

“Where is that? What country?”

She quirked a smile. “Where do you think, Great Detective?”

“Sounds Hellenic. That fits your features, since I’d guess you were eastern Mediterranean, except for your blue eyes. I'd say Syria. Egypt, perhaps. Neither match your accent, but that could have its own explanation.”

“Themyscira is its own country, an island. Your statesmen don’t recognize it yet, but it is far to the east.”

“The east?”

“I suppose it could be the west you if you were patient.”

“Fine. How are your muscles so strong and fast? Your performance is biologically impossible.”

“I was graced by the goddesses with many gifts, strength and swiftness among them. The divine care little for mortal limitations.”

Batman stared at her for a minute before he continued. “You bluffed about some ‘sisters’. Are there other Themyscirans in America? Can they do what you do?”

“I’m the only one here. And my none of my sisters are blessed quite like me.”

“You told Flanagan you wanted to find me because you needed a detective. What’s your story?”

“So you’ll help me?”

“Probably not. But your odds are better if you’re candid.”

“In brief, I’m an ambassador. I’ve come to seek diplomatic recognition for Themyscira and thereafter a defensive alliance.”

“Against what threat?”

“Nazis.”

“You’ve been attacked by the Nazis?”

“No, but we will be.”

“How do you know that?”

“Prophesy.”

“Prophesy.”

“Through my Queen Mother.”

“Your family is royalty? That would make you a princess?”

“Yes.”

“Does Germany know your island exists?”

“I pray not, but they will.”

“Because your mother's prophesy says so?”

“Yes.”

“So you came to America for help.”

“I did, but divine guidance sent an American to us first: Steven Trevor, a flying captain of your Army.”

“An American pilot landed on your island?”

“Near my island, and landing would be a generous description.”

“And he took you to the American government?”

“Yes.”

“I’m guessing that didn’t turn out well for you.”

“It did not.”

“Because you arrived with no proof of your country’s existence.”

“And by our laws, I can bring no man back.”

“How did you get involved in the military? Some sort of back room deal to get your representation.”

“In essence, yes. I lacked companions, as I was a newcomer, so Steve helped me find living quarters and work to occupy me.”

“Sounds nice of him.”

“He is extremely kind.”

“And he recruited you?”

“No, not at all. I asked to help him.”

“And he works for some domestic security unit? An intelligence outfit?”

“I have little insight into the ranks of your Army, but prominent officers give him orders to perform alone all over the country.”

“He was sent to protect Arturo Bertinelli?”

“Yes, but I arrived first.”

“Why didn’t you kill me?”

“What?”

“When you chased me, you could have killed me early on. You were certainly trying by the end. Why not from the start?”

Wonder Woman seemed confused by the question. “I’m an ambassador. It’s poor protocol to kill citizens of a prospective ally. Even their criminals. You’re an American, aren't you?”

“Do you know why I was interrogating Arturo?”

“Because he wronged you?

“Not directly.”

“Because he is a criminal?”

“He’s a career criminal. He’s been charged with assault, armed robbery, extortion, burglary, and three counts of homicide, and that’s not half of what he’s done. In most cities in America, Arturo would be public enemy number one.”

“But not this city?”

“He doesn’t make the top thirty.”

She nodded contritely. “I regret that I aided him.”

“I guess you learned a few things about what you volunteered to do here after that night.”

“Eventually, but first my actions earned the attention of another high officer who wanted Steven's services and my assistance for a extra special mission.”

“And what did he want you to do?”

“She.”

Batman’s jaw froze into a hard line, but he kept his voice level. “Amanda Waller.”

“Yes, she said she had encountered you before.”

“Small world. What did she want?”

“She offered me America’s diplomatic recognition if I would help her fight Nazis.”

“She sent you to Europe?”

“No, hidden Nazis. In Argentina. We were told to spy on a leader of spies.”

Batman paused. “You killed Carlos Salazar?”

“I didn’t, though I dearly wished to. Steven Trevor struck first.”

“If your mission was reconnaissance, why did Trevor kill him?”

“He didn’t have time to tell me.”

“Why did you want to kill him?”

“Because he’s a Nazi.”

“Killing a diplomat is poor protocol for an ambassador.”

“His credentials are forfeit. He told me that he had set in motion many horrid schemes to further the Nazi cause.”

“He mentioned this in casual conversation?”

“I can be ... persuasive.”

Batman noticed her glance subconsciously at her hip. “Is that killing what caused your break with the military?”

“I’m not certain, but on my voyage from Argentina, my ship was torpedoed. Now I am reluctant to trust anyone with torpedoes.”

“Were you on a Navy ship?”

“No, it carried soybeans.”

Batman frowned, then his expression went flat again. “So then you swim to America?”

“In part, yes.”

“Then you realize you have no one to trust, so you come to me?”

“Do you have torpedoes?”

“Why exactly do you need a detective? To find out who sunk your vessel?”

“I’m trying to find Steven Trevor.”

“What do you mean? He wasn’t killed at the scene?”

“No! He was arrested. By the time I had the sense to free him, he had been taken away. Now he is hidden in an Argentine prison somewhere. I must get him back, but I don’t know where to find him.”

“And you want him because he can clear your name with the military.”

“I want him because he’s my friend!” Wonder Woman spoke this louder than she had intended. She steadied her voice and continued, “I owed him a great deal before, and I believe he killed Salazar as a sacrifice for me as well. I may be the only one trying to help him. If I can’t return his favor, if I don’t at least make every effort to try, then I’m nothing.”

“How do you know he’s alive?”

“I don’t, but I have faith.”

Batman looked past her for a minute. “So you want me to help you free a murderer because he murdered someone you wanted murdered, and you feel that you owe him a favor?”

“A just killing is not murder.”

“What makes it a just killing?”

“Salazar was evil. Had he escaped, he would have caused great harm. The laws of his land would not stop him. Only we could stop him.”

“What evidence can you show the world to prove that Salazar was a threat? Your testimony?”

“No. If we rescue Steven, there is his testimony as well.”

“So two testimonies?”

“Steven heard many more details from Salazar than I heard. His words would lead to Nazi actions across these continents. They would be the proof.”

“We’re assuming this alleged network of Nazi agents hasn’t gone into hiding or started other plans since Salazar was publicly assassinated.”

“Yes, we must assume that.”

“Let’s pretend I’m skeptical. Why should I help you?”

“I admit I have very little money.”

“I don’t charge a fee. Why should I help you?”

Wonder Woman stopped rowing and looked down in thought. When she looked up, there was a very un-regal glint in her eye. “You are foes with Amanda Waller and her militant peers.”

Batman nodded cautiously.

Wonder Woman smiled. “I’ve learned much of the ways of America’s secret leaders, but I am just a visitor. Steven Trevor has been their agent for a great while longer. He knows endless secrets. He was ordered to help protect your Gotham criminal, so he can certainly give testimony on that mission. If you wish to harm these criminals and their civic allies, he can be a weapon.”

Batman looked back with newfound curiosity. “That occurred to me, but as you said, he’s a seasoned intelligence agent. They’re screened for loyalty. How do I know he’d betray his bosses to help me?”

Wonder Woman started rowing again. “He would. I can guarantee it.”

“But how can I be sure?”

“Those bosses also told him to keep me in line. But when the moment came, he killed for me. I didn’t even have to ask. I’m sure that if I did ask, he would do anything for me.”

“And that pleases you?”

“I-” She hesitated. “I don’t know how that makes me feel. But I would also do anything for him.”

“Anything?”

“I think so. I came to you, didn't I?”

“Assuming he’s still alive, you expect me to find a high-profile assassin locked away in the worst depths of the Argentine prison system thousands of miles away before he’s executed or dies from exposure?”

“Can you?”

Batman considered this for a long silence then offered a head-shrug. “Maybe.”

“Wonderful!”

“And if I find him, you expect to break him out single-handedly.”

“Yes.”

“And escort him back to America in what would need to be utter secrecy.”

“I was hoping you could provide some ideas on that question.”

“And if you make any mistakes-”

Wonder Woman shrugged. “Then we’re all fubarred.”

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-08-20 10:27pm

I missed this so much.

The electromagnet was a nice trick. I honestly didn't think of that and was wondering how the metal mesh was increasing in weight. I assume the 'fireball' weapon launches thermite projectiles?
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-08-20 10:32pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-08-20 10:27pm
I missed this so much.

The electromagnet was a nice trick. I honestly didn't think of that and was wondering how the metal mesh was increasing in weight. I assume the 'fireball' weapon launches thermite projectiles?
Or just typical napalm. It he used thermite in the projectiles, it would melt the mesh (more quickly anyway).

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by SpottedKitty » 2017-08-21 03:31pm

<snrk> I nearly fell out of my chair at the "Communist plot" line. :roll:
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-08-21 06:26pm

SpottedKitty wrote:
2017-08-21 03:31pm
<snrk> I nearly fell out of my chair at the "Communist plot" line. :roll:
I'm very proud of that one.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by LadyTevar » 2017-08-21 07:09pm

And she knows the meaning of Fubar. Nice education, Steve.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-08-21 07:33pm

LadyTevar wrote:
2017-08-21 07:09pm
And she knows the meaning of Fubar. Nice education, Steve.
She thinks she knows the meaning of Fubar.

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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-08-22 01:25am

Stewart M wrote:
2017-08-20 10:32pm
Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-08-20 10:27pm
I missed this so much.

The electromagnet was a nice trick. I honestly didn't think of that and was wondering how the metal mesh was increasing in weight. I assume the 'fireball' weapon launches thermite projectiles?
Or just typical napalm. It he used thermite in the projectiles, it would melt the mesh (more quickly anyway).
Napalm hadn't been invented yet (this is, what, 1940 or early 1941?), but other jellied gasoline incendiaries had- Napalm was actually a substitute for earlier incendiaries that used natural rubber as the jellying agent.

Also, napalm and the like burn hot enough that they might very well damage or fatally weaken steel netting.

It's believable that Batman could have personally invented it or had it invented, or for that matter captured some nasty firebug criminal who invented it himself.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by FaxModem1 » 2017-08-22 02:32pm

That was rather enjoyable, the 'Communist Plot' joke made me chuckle.

Never knew the difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque before now. Neat.

Interesting bit with the Rat-Catcher. A life without socialization, and now suddenly he has it, and misses it when it doesn't go the way he wants it to.
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-09-27 09:34pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 23: Dial L for Log​


Connecticut.

The states of Connecticut and Gotham were separated by the fast Miagani River. The river was a forgettable backwater, winding along acres of sleepy New England farms until it emptied past the rocky coast of the Gotham Bay into the sea. To the outside world, the Miagani had one notable feature: it sat between some of the largest industrial towns in the country, and much of the region’s trade crossed the few bridges which spanned it. The largest was the Dasch Pastorius Bridge, known locally as the DPB. Half of the fabric, fish, and timber entering Gotham State crossed the DPB, and a large portion of manufactured goods reaching New England and the Canadian Maritimes crossed the other way.

Claus Muller was a handyman from Bridgeport. At least he called himself a handyman. Most folks called him a bum. Claus could fix anything from a sewer main to a yacht mast, but employers couldn’t forgive his accent or his habit of being late. He was lucky to find work six months a year, moving from town-to-town to ply his trade.

Claus’ latest job was cleaning rust off the struts of the DPB. He spent his days walking the beams under the bridge as endless traffic passed overhead. He spent his evenings at a poor boarding house on the Connecticut side. It was a lonely life: Claus often went from dawn till dusk without speaking a word to another soul, and only the proprietor knew his name. Or so he thought.

Claus was waiting for the bus one morning, lunch pail in hand, when three grim men in suits stepped out of a car. Before he realized their intentions, two had flanked him and a third was pushing a badge under his nose.

“Claus Muller, we’re with the Federal Bureau of Investigations. You’re under arrest.”
Claus went white. While the other men put him in handcuffs, he sputtered, “Vatt? You haff der vrong mahn.”

The agent picked up Claus’ lunch pail. “Yeah?” He lifted the lid. Inside was a bundle of dynamite. “Tell it to the judge.”

---​

Arizona.

Fort Mudd was the Army’s largest artillery training site. It was mostly desert. Anything that wasn’t desert would soon become desert. The nearest civilian building was Maddie’s Smokehouse, sitting five miles away on a high bluff beside the Fort’s only road. The owner and sole employee at Maddie’s Smokehouse was Miss Madeline Hand. Maddie’s had both the only barbecue and the only female around for miles, and it ran a fine business. It was also perfectly situated to observe traffic traveling the Fort’s lone road.

That morning, Madeline was cleaning glasses in the kitchen when she heard a knock on her restaurant’s front door. She was surprised: the place wouldn’t open for another three hours. Madeline went to the door and opened it a crack.

Outside stood two men in black suits and black cowboy hats.

She lifted an eyebrow. “Can I help you?”

One man flashed a badge. “Federal Bureah of Investigation, ma’am. Would’ju spare a moment?”

Madeline’s eyes went wide and she moved to close the door. Quick as a rattlesnake on a griddle, the two men pulled their sidearms and stuck them through the crack. The man with the badge forced open the door, nearly knocking Madeline to the floor. “Don’t mistake my etiquette for a request, ma’am.”

She scrambled to her feet. “What’da y’all want now?”

“For starters, we believe you to be an unlicensed radio operator.”

“That’s it?”

The man rapped his fist on a section of wall in the corner, knocking open a hidden door. Behind the door they found a radio broadcast booth and a stack of journals. One journal lay open, and the latest entry read:

Monday. Convoy passed at 3 o’clock. Six howitzers – 155mm. Three unrecognized field guns. Capt. Samuels talking at supper about new drill next week on north range. Must press him for details.

The man looked back at Madeline. “Ma’am, you are most assuredly under arrest.”

“Y’all got a warrant?”

---​

Louisiana.

U-1394 was a German Type VIIB U-boat, one of the most fearsome submarines in the world. She carried fourteen torpedoes, could travel eighty nautical miles submerged, and essentially held the very oceans at her mercy. She was currently stuck on a tiny reef. U-1394 had a simple job: ferrying agents and tools of mayhem into the United States. It used isolated beaches along the less-patrolled Gulf Coast to make its insertions. However, the waters of an isolated beach tended to be filled with uncharted obstacles. U-1394 had to surface whenever it approached shore, but its hull still sat deep enough at low tide to catch debris on the seabed. Consequently, her captain usually made every effort to avoid approaching shore at low tide, but today he was ordered to pick up a passenger, which meant he was on a deadline. And now he was caught on a reef.

They were just within sight of land, a forbidding jungle by the looks of it - no sign of habitation in either direction. In two hours, the tide would rise and free their vessel. But if even a fishing trawler spotted them here, they were burnt bratwurst. While most of the crew waited in clenched anticipation, four of the men had rowed a raft to shore to meet their cargo.

The party was led by Oberleutnant Franz Hoff. He helped his sailors push the raft onto dry ground and led them into the trees. U-1394’s orders orchestrated their rendezvous with a time to the minute and coordinates to the quarter kilometer. However, it was a challenge to see ten meters in this steamy wetland. As Oberleutnant Hoff slogged through knee-deep muck, he wished the admiralty had issued him more appropriate boots, though he had to credit them for finding this desolate spot. No one in their right mind would pass through such a hot, fetid marsh.

His party reached a small incline which they realized was natural causeway, hardly wide enough for a cart and still half-flooded, but a path nonetheless. Hoff weighed the merits of speed against stealth, then waved his men onto the path. They continued at a substantially less soggy march.

After a few minutes, they heard shouts and running ahead. The sailors hurried to take positions beside the path, readying their weapons. Oberleutnant Hoff stood alone in the middle, his Luger drawn. He saw an older man running towards them in a panic. The man’s suit was in disarray and drenched with sweat, and his thinning hair was slick on his head.

Oberleutnant Hoff held out his hand. “Halt!”

The stranger stopped long enough to catch his breath. “Die Marine?”

Hoff nodded vigorously. “Ja.”

The man tried to urge him back the way they came. “Los! Schnell!”

Hoff hesitated, but he let the man pass and followed him at a jog. “Bist Sie Heinz?”

The potential Heinz, their passenger, nodded.

Hoff asked, “Wie lautet das passwort?”

Heinz rolled his eyes, as if the conversation was a waste of words. Given his lack of breath, he didn’t have many left. “’Wir mussen den Grunen Pfeil töten’, ja?”

“Ja.”

“Gut! Wo ist dein boot?”

Oberleutnant Hoff pointed him down the path. “Dort. Weshalb rennen Sie?”

“Die Amerikaner!”

Hoff looked around in disbelief. “Hier?”

“Ja! Los!” Heinz found his second wind and dashed ahead.

Oberleutnant Hoff exchanged looks with his men then matched pace. They reached the bend in the path near the shore when they heard muffled hooves behind them. The party turned. Seven armed men on horseback trotted down the causeway, the animals kicking mud with every step.

The lead rider called out, “Whacha’ll doin’? Stop ri’ now, hear?”

One of the sailors shouted, “Amerikaner!” and fired his carbine. The round hit one of the horses which whined and reared up, sending its rider into the muck. Oberleutnant Hoff cried, “Nein!”, but it was too late. The riders struggled to control of their mounts and returned fire. The Oberleutnant ordered his men into the trees as splinters of bark rained around him.

The riders dismounted and gave chase. One called out, “We’s the Law! Y’all under arrest!” and fired another two shots ahead. A German sailor was struck in the back and fell, swallowed by the tall grass. But Heinz and the submariners soon disappeared in the thick vegetation. However, in their rush, they lost any sense of direction. They found no hint of the ocean, even after they traveled twice the length of their original trek. The marsh seemed endless, and the heat wore them down until merely walking was torture. Heinz seemed near collapse.

Then Oberleutnant Hoff heard something strange beyond the trees. Something melodic. A quick plucking of strings. Fiddle music. He pushed aside a branch and saw a collection of shanties built over the marsh on poles. They had neither windows nor doors, and the roofs sagged with age. An ancient Model T sat on a small knoll. On the car’s rusty hood was a young woman playing a banjo. The Oberleutnant wasn’t famailar with the style she played, but she was skilled at the instrument. She looked up in mild suprise.

Oberleutnant Hoff smiled. “Excuse! Vhere ist der ozean, bitte?”

The lady responded, but Oberleutnant Hoff to realized she wasn’t speaking to him. “Hey, we gots visitors!”

An older female voice called back from inside the nearest shanty. “Who?”

The young woman with the banjo addressed Hoff, “What’cher name?”

By now Heinz and the other two sailors had entered the clearing. Hoff tried to sound friendly. “Franz.”

She called to the shanty. “Ma, they’s some Yuropeeans.”

The voice in the shanty answered, “Yuropeeans? They best be gone.”

The young woman with the banjo shrugged. “Mama says you best be gone.”

Franz scowled and gestured. His two men raised their weapons. “You vill say vehere ist der ozean!”

The young woman seemed unimpressed. “Ma, they’s got guns.”

The other lady’s voice, agitated now, responded from the shanty, “Yuropeeans wid’ guns? No they ain’t!”

At those words, there was a great commotion across the property. Almost in unison, figures appeared from inside doorways and behind sheds. One sat up from the bed of the car. There were ten of them, and all were armed.

The young woman put down her banjo and shook her head. “We don’ cotton to Frenchies here. ‘Specially who don’ got manners.”

Oberleutnant Hoff slowly raised his hands. “Frenchies?”

His companions followed suit. Heinz was exasperated. “But your state heritage ist Fren-”

Suddenly, a group of men crossed through the another side of the clearing. It was the riders, now on foot but still armed. Their leader pointed at Oberleutnant Hoff. “Hold there!”

Some of the residents turned at the new arrivals. An old lady hobbled out of a shanty and called to them. “And jus’ who’re you?”

Their leader called back. “We’re the Law. Y’all best lower your firearms peacable now.”

The old lady’s eyes went wide. “The Law? Naw, ain’t no guv’ment welcome here.”

The young lady on the Model T cried out, “Don’ fuss, Mama.”

The leader of the lawmen spoke coldly, “Ma’am, I’m gunna count to three.”

The old lady raised a pistol at them from the folds of her dress. “Ain’t reckon you can count that high.”

---​

Pennsylvania.

“You’re under arrest!”

---​

Illinois.

“You’re all under arrest!”

---​

Quebec.

“Vous êtes en état d'arrestation!”

---​

Florida.

“Please put your pants back on.”

---​

An undisclosed federal building. Gotham City.

Amanda Waller stood at one end of a dark room. At the other end, cast in deep shadow, sat a burly man with the voice of a politican and the eyes of a czar.

Waller said, “Mr. Secretary, thank you coming.”

“Miss Waller, we both know that I would not ordinarily make this trip. But it seems you have surpassed yourself, and I cannot in good conscience decline.”

She nodded. “In the past seventy-two hours, we’ve identified and shut down thirteen German infiltration cells on American soil, and there are nine more stings in progress.”

“Indeed you have. If the confessions prove true, this is surely the finest counterespionage coup in our nation’s history. And now you want to trade your chips in for a big favor.”

“Mr. Secretary, I want this success to serve as proof that I know what I’m doing, so you’ll consent to my next plan of attack.”

“Consent?”

“It will be,” she paused, “Aggressive in scope.”

The shadowy man chuckled. “You’ve already got the the moon and the stars. What more could you possibly ask?”

“Let me first explain how we’ve accomplished our string of successes.”

The man gave an indifferent wave. “It’s your show.”

“Thank you, Mr. Secretary.”

Waller turned to a set a blinds on one wall and pulled a cord. The blinds lifted, revealing a two-way mirror which separated them from a bright interrogation room. There was a figure at a table inside.

The shadowy visitor leaned forward and squinted. “Who is that? He’s familiar.”

Waller answered, “He was our greatest threat. Now he’s our greatest weapon. Mr. Secretary, you’re looking at Carmine Falcone.”

Even in the dark, her guest looked horrified. “You kidnapped Carmine Falcone?”

“And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

“You have one chance to explain yourself, woman, or I’ll see you in cuffs so fast you’ll head will spin.”

“That’s all I need, Mr. Secretary.”

“What the devil’s wrong with him? He looks a century old.”

Falcone looked substantially worse than before his capture. His skin was sallow and spotted, and he sat with an obvious hunch. Messy white whiskers had appeared on his chin.

“Poor living. Since he’s been in our care, he’s hardly touched his meals, won’t exercise, and he smokes like a train wreck. Nine packs of cigarettes a day.”

“Nine packs a day?”

“Dawn till dusk. His doctors insist we cut his supply, though I’m reluctant since he’s been so cooperative.”

“Why would he smoke nine packs a day?”

“He says it’s because he wasn’t allowed before.”

“Who would tell Carmine Falcone what to do? His wife?”

“I’ll let the man speak for himself.” Waller pressed a button on a wall phone. “Begin.”

The door opened in the interrogation room, and Lieutenant King Faraday entered. His voice was muffled by the glass. “Hello again, Mr. Falcone.”

Falcone greeted him warmly. “Agent. Here to bring me my smokes?”

“Sorry, Mr. Falcone. None till after dinner. I was hoping we could have another talk.”

Falcone glanced at the two-way glass. “I imagine after what your boys have been up to, we have someone special watching today. I wonder who.”

In the dark room, Waller’s guest squirmed.

Faraday said, “Let’s focus on me and you. I have a few questions that I know you’ve answered many times, but I’d like you to answer again. Can you do that?”

Falcone smiled. “For an audience, I’m happy to oblige.”

Faraday looked tired of this attitude. “Let’s keep this short. Something remarkable happened to you this year. Care to explain?”

“I was mind-controlled by a witch.”

There was silence on both sides of the glass. Faraday asked Falcone to elaborate.

Falcone said, “I don’t know much of her, except that she’s a kraut spy.”

“How do you know this?”

“Simple. When she was in my head, she found ways of contacting her kraut friends, giving them orders. She was a sly one. I was along for the ride, so I saw the whole thing.”

Amanda Waller toggled the wall phone again. “Let’s pause there.” Inside the interrogation room, a small light blinked on the table. Faraday crossed his arms and nodded. Back in the dark room, Waller faced her guest. “Mr. Secretary, I-”

“I don’t know what you’re thinking, girl, but you have some mighty nerve bringing me here to listen to this … hogwash.”

Waller was unperturbed. “Hogwash. Mr. Secretary, may I humbly remind you that under my direction, we’ve removed over a dozen major threats from the game virtually overnight? Do you think that was an accident?”

“That has no relation to-”

“Respectfully, Mr. Secretary, you must understand a difficult fact. The world is much larger and much stranger than you know. I’ll even say it’s larger and stranger than you’ve been allowed to know.”

The man in the shadows was speechless.

Waller continued. “Let me finish this interview, then feel free to cross-examine my claims any way you wish. I promise you, as outlandish as they may seem, they’ll hold up under the most intense scrutiny, and you’ll find no better explanation. If after that you still can’t accept me, then I agree we have no business here.”

“… Do not speak to me in that uppity manner again, Miss Waller.” He nodded at the glass. “Get on with it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Secretary.” Waller pressed the wall phone. “Proceed.”

The light on the table flashed, and Faraday continued. “So Mr. Falcone, you’re saying that a person-”

Falcone interrupted. “A witch.”

“-Fine, a witch, lived in your mind, controlling your actions. And this continued for months.”

“Yes.”

“And she went by the codename der Wehrwolf?”

“That’s what her crew all called her.”

“So she used you to give orders to a network of Nazi spies and sympathizers?”

“Occasionally. See, she had to fit her kraut-talk into my leisure time. Little calls. Little letters. Meetings in unobserved locations. This was difficult for her, since I’m often surrounded by company.”

“Then when we took we you off the street, she decided to flee your mind.”

Falcone grinned brutally. It was an expression he never would have worn in his old life. “And then she tried to kill me. Since I had all her secrets, you understand.”

“Yes, she attacked you-”

“And now I’m going to kill her. She wronged me, Agent Faraday, and I’m going to punch her ticket. I’d say it’s a matter of honor. But between you, me, and the glass wall? I just really want to.”

“Let’s stick to the questions, Mr. Falcone. Tell me, why you? Presuming der Wehrwolf could enter any mind she wished, why not take over an important general or J. Edgar Hoover? Why not the President?”

Falcone folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. “An excellent question. Unfortunately, while she could read my mind, I could not read hers.”

“Give me your best guess.”

“Funny you mention the President. I asked her that myself. One of the first things I said to her that wasn’t a vulgarity.”

“And?”

“The question made her uncomfortable.”

“You said you couldn’t read her mind.”

“True, but I could sense her feelings. Just a little. I compare it to reading someone’s face over a telephone line. A strange sense, but you can sure do it. Oh, and she did have something to say. Yes, she said the Presidency is a ‘noble seat’ and its occupant is ‘warded’. I have no idea what she meant. It sure didn’t save Lincoln. Or Garfield. Or McKinley.”

Faraday winced. “Yes, thank you. But why you?”

Falcone shrugged. “My guess? I’m influential, but as I private citizen, I don’t suffer the same oversight as an elected official or a military man. No one tells me what to do. I enforce my privacy.” He chuckled. “And best of all, I don’t fear anyone. Agent Faraday, I’m not sure you appreciate the incredible courage it took to arrest a guy like me. You deserve a commendation, since I’m sure this witch decided that was never going to happen. Yes, I can see how my life would be useful to a spy.”

“But that’s not all. You and your, uh, business partners were also involved in a spy mission of your own?”

“Yes. Some time before I was controlled, the Navy came to our door and asked that we keep an eye out for fascists in this very city.”

“And did you?”

“Well enough. I have many friends, Agent. I would hear things. Missing train loads from our steel plants. A mugging gone wrong on a Coast Guard commander. Riots we didn’t approve. I love this country, and I love this city, and I don’t want either of them to come to harm.”

“That’s admirable, Mr. Falcone. Do you think this Nazi witch controlled you because she wanted to subvert the work you were doing with the Navy?”

“Absolutely. Without question. But she was clever. She would set up stooges, see? Nobodies. Fall guys. The Navy thought we were so good since we’d deliver a new Nazi every week. Then while they’re grilling the stooge, her real pawns went about their nasty business without a worry. Like a game of three card monte.”

“So the military receives the impression that your counterespionage efforts are widely successful, but the real subversive activities in Gotham continue.”

“She was even more clever than that. She’d call up her friends and tell them to conduct fewer attacks on our merchant ships.”

In the dark room, Waller’s guest barked, “Hold on. What did he just say?”

Waller reluctantly pressed the wall phone. “Stop.” She faced her guest. “Problem?”

“Is that Italian alleging that the decline in attacks on our trans-Atlantic shipping was a deliberate ploy? How does that make any sense? Their entire naval effort revolves around a trade war.” The man was so angry, he was spitting. “How could restricting themselves possibly be a strategic advantage?”

In the interrogation room, Faraday and Falcone heard a mummer through the wall and turned to look. Waller briefly closed her eyes in self-restraint. “Do you think Mr. Falcone could possibly know the fine details of our shipping problem if he wasn’t privy to the information from the other side?”

“Why stop the attacks? To what end?”

“Mr. Falcone has a theory.” She pressed the button again.

In the interrogation room, Faraday gamely asked, “Why do you think der Wehrwolf asked her superiors to conduct fewer attacks on our merchant ships?”

Falcone didn’t answer for a moment. He rubbed his now-considerable beard. “I don’t think she cares about the krauts.”

Faraday acted surprised. “What do you mean?”

“This witch can become whoever she wants. Pretend you were in her pointy shoes. Would you care about politics or flags? She’s no martyr. She’s in it for herself.”

“So?”

“I’m sure she wants Hitler’s boys to win. That’s her crew. But she’s willing to jeopardize the short-term success of a few teammates to further her own cause. As a spy, she can make herself look good by spying on us, but it’s a bigger win to get rid of rivals on her own side. That makes her indispensable. That’s power.”

“We know there’s lots of jockeying for power in the Nazi high command.”

“You have no idea. Here’s her masterstroke, are you ready? She bakes some lies about the effectiveness of some new star-spangled naval defenses. Scares Hitler’s fleets into taking it easy for a season. That gives me, and by extension, her credibility. Now, there are two teams in the Nazi big leagues in this part of the world: our witch and some bucko down in Spanish-land called Salazar. If she gets rid of Salazar, she wins the pennant. So what does she do? She builds up all this credibility, then whispers to your admiral that Salazar’s the Nazi big boss. Paints a target on his back. Brilliant.”

“A target?”

“I think she hoped Uncle Sam would shine a bright light on Salazar. Spies can’t work in the light. It would tie him in knots. Maybe Berlin would call him home for a spanking. Checkmate.” Falcone snickered, and it turned into open laughter. “But the best part? You go and plug the poor man. Ha! Even the witch didn’t see that coming. It’s a good thing you Feds broke the rules and snatched me away, or she’d have probably taken over the world by now.”

“Where do you think der Wehrwolf is now, Mr. Falcone?”

Falcone’s mirth faded, and he considered the question seriously. “She’s prideful, and she takes big risks, but she’s not stupid. I told her many times that if I was free and still alive, I would destroy her. She knows I was sincere. Since she failed to kill me, she can’t tie herself to any asset I knew about. Bad news for her – I know just about all her assets, and I trust you Feds are doing a fine job with your small words and your big stick. If her empire is crumbling, she’s already out of town.”

“Out of town where? Back to Europe?”

“That would be admitting defeat. She might try again in the US: start from scratch with a nice senator or J. Edgar Hoover. But I doubt it. Not only have I taken her toys, I’m sharing her script. If you G-men have any brains, you’ll be watching for honchos acting bewitched. You caught her once. Even she won't gamble against you being smart twice.”

“So she’s not in United States?”

“My best guess? She went south. She and this Salazar hated each other. If you want to rest easy at night, just know that half of her time was wasted taking cheap shots at the guy. And he probably broke more of her plans than you ever did. My point is that she seemed to know what he was up to. Not usually enough to act on what she knew, which means I never got to see it. But if Salazar’s dead meat, his gang is sitting there without a head. I bet she wants to take over.

“Okay. Thank you, Mr. Falcone.”

Falcone scratched his chin. “Do I get my smokes now?”

Waller pressed the wall phone. “Let the man have his cigarettes.” She closed the blinds, turned to her guest, and spread her hands like a magician at the end of an act. “Go through any channel you want, Mr. Secretary. Talk to the military. The FBI. The State Department. Everything you heard here matches the facts. It’s a different interpretation of the facts, but it explains everything because it’s the truth. Thanks to some luck, we’ve knocked out half the German infiltrators in the Western Hemisphere and paralyzed the other half. If we push our advantage now, we can pick off the survivors, setting their subversive campaign back years, or we can hesitate and let them regroup, and they’ll back on our doorstep before Christmas.”

The man in the shadows with the imperial eyes folded his hands on his lap. “Suppose I confirm your fairy tale. We’re back to question number one: just what do you have in mind that you need my permission?”

“We paid no attention to Carlos Salazar until Falcone mentioned him. Now, thanks to my error, he’s dead. Which means we only have one good lead on Salazar’s network while its still vulnerable.”

“I’ve heard this one: your Captain Trevor. Under lock and key somewhere in chilly Patagonia.”

“So we believe. I tried to retrieve him with all the forces at my disposal. My team ran into a German unit with the same idea. We won that fight, but couldn’t get Trevor out.”

“How do you know Salazar’s network is still as paralyzed as you claim? Maybe one of their own has taken over, or maybe der Wehrwolf is already in charge.”

“Mr. Secretary, we don’t know. But considering the Germans themselves tried to grab Steve, they must believe that he knows something dangerous. However organized they are now, if we wait, it will only get worse.”

“So what are you asking for?”

“Last time, I sent ten men, that’s shooters and support staff combined. That wasn’t enough. I want numbers on my side, so they can fight through whatever bad luck pops up.”

“You want to invade Argentina?”

“I wouldn’t phrase it like that.”

“What exactly do you want?”

Waller composed herself to keep a straight face. “Two motorized companies and logistical support.”

“Impossible. Absurd.”

“One company.”

“No.”

“Unmarked uniforms. Foreign guns. They leave on their feet or in a body bag. They’ll look like locals. No ties to us.”

“I said no, Waller.”

“Two platoons. Para-dropped. Light infantry.”

“No.”

“One platoon with air support.”

The man in the shadows rubbed his eyes. “You live and die on this one. You know that, right?”

“I know.”

“Submit a full plan for the joint chiefs tomorrow. And no promises on the air support.”

“Thank you Mr. Secretary.”

---​

Back in the interrogation room.

Carmine Falcone took a long, triumphant drag on his cigarette. Lieutenant King Faraday enjoyed his own cigarette. The pair had spoken often enough to become something like colleagues. Faraday was Falcone’s only window to the outside world, and that was often the hook of their conversation.

Faraday blew a smoke ring. “I was wondering something, Mr. Falcone.”

Falcone arched an eyebrow. “Mm?”

“Your ‘witch’ controlled you for months. But you didn’t stop doing ‘business’. Did she let you steer that part of your life? Did she show any care for what you did? You’ve been silent on the matter. I know I’ve asked before.”

Falcone looked at the ceiling, and Faraday assumed he wouldn’t answer. But eventually he said, “Bring me newspapers with a headline for every arrest I give you. And tomorrow, bring me six cartons of these and a box of cigars. A nice cut. Something I would buy. And a bottle of amaretto.”

“You got it.”

Falcone nodded. “My associates and I bring value to the city. I keep things stable. That’s important with a war coming, don’t you think?”

“Sure.”

“She had an eye to rock the boat, so you'd think she'd want to ruin me. Fortunately, the witch didn’t share my high opinion of myself. My day-to-day business was an afterthought to her. She let me do the, uh, what did you call it? Steering? It didn’t concern her much.” Falcone smoked for a minute. “But she didn’t ignore it completely. If she saw a way to cause some easy chaos without exposing me, which is to say, herself, too much, she would take it. You heard about that shootout with the Bertinellis and the cops? It was their own foolish fault, no question, but I helped escalate it. She wants blood in the streets. If I had been in control, it never would have gotten that far.”

“And the big agreement with the destroyers and Arturo Bertinelli. How does that play into her plans?”

Falcone shrugged. “It was an excuse to rat on Salazar, but she could have done that anytime. This was a roundabout way to get the destroyers built here where she could keep an eye on them. Maybe sabotage them later.”

“She could negotiate for the destroyers anytime.”

Falcone shook his head. “I never touched the weapons industry. Too many rules. Too many background checks. If I showed an interest out of nowhere, it would invite suspicions. Arturo was an excuse to get my foot in the door with an honest motive.”

“Honest? You mean conspiracy and greed.”

“Better than treason.”

“So your witch didn’t care about saving Arturo?”

“Are you kidding? She would have loved to keep him around. He’s toxic. Nothing but trouble. I convinced her that getting rid of him was a cost of doing the other business. Getting that numskull out of here is the safest thing for Gotham.” He took another drag. “Why do you ask?”

“You won. It’s all over the news. Arturo is being tried in a Canadian court.”

Falcone looked away but visibly relaxed. He started another cigarette. “Don’t forget the amaretto.”

---​

Charlotte’s Grove Hospital. Gotham City.

Detective Harvey Bullock was lucid several hours a day when he chose to be. However, he was frequently in pain and allowed a generous prescription of morphine, which he took with gusto. Even when he was off the drug, the fractures to his ribs and jaw made talking difficult, and these were only beginning to mend. His official security detail was no longer round-the-clock, but Bullock’s team went out of their way to keep him company when they were off-duty. He knew they were stretched thin, so he told them they were all being dummies. But he was usually asleep, so they stayed regardless.

Harvey was asleep now, and his current visitor was Sergeant James Gordon. Bullock had been moved to a long-term recovery wing. He lived in a large hall with thirty other patients, separated only by a curtain. Gordon was missing dinner with his family to be at Bullock’s side. His replacement meal was a hot dog from a street cart and the applesauce from Bullock’s untouched lunch. As Gordon ate, there was a knock on the curtain. He recognized the knock.

“Come in, Lee.”

Doctor Leslie Thompkins was Bullock’s primary physician post-surgery. Gordon was around often enough that they had become familiar, as familiar as Gordon had time to be with anyone lately.

Doctor Thompkins stuck her head through the curtain. “Hope I’m not interrupting any deep conversation?”

Doctor Thompkins had a dark sense of humor, even by cop standards. Gordon played it off with an awkward smile. “You’re fine, Lee. I’m just enjoying dinner.” He looked at his plate. “Well, eating it anyway.”

She stepped inside. “Actually, Jim, I had some news to share.”

Gordon’s heart dropped. Doctor Thompkins seemed upbeat, but Gordon believed that when it came to hospitals, no news was good news. “What is it?”

“Jeez, I can hear your teeth grind from here. It’s not about Harvey.”

“Oh. Then what?”

“There’s a radio in the doctor’s lounge. Some district attorney just announced that Arturo Bertinelli has a court date set.”

“Oh. That’s nice. Took ’em long enough.” In their brief acquaintance, Doctor Thompkins had shown an insatiable interest in criminals and the justice system. “When is it scheduled?”

“Wrong question, Jim!”

“What do you mean?”

“Not when. Where.”

“What?”

“In Canada, Jim! Bertinelli’s going have his court case in Canada.”

"Why on earth would they do that?”

She shrugged, smiling. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?”

He nodded, not smiling. “Yes, it is crazy.” He rubbed his mustache. “Would you excuse me, Lee? I have to make a phone call.”

She held open the curtain. “Sure. But it’s almost time to change this big guy’s dressings. You don’t want to miss the fun.”

Gordon found a pay phone in the lobby. He dialed an unlisted number. “We need to talk tonight. Yeah. Fine.”

---​

Several hours later.

It was a typical dark alley. There was a time when Gordon used to obsess over their meetings, peering around every corner, watching his back. But he was long past caring about security. The fact was, Gordon was tired. He hadn’t slept enough in weeks. Something had to give, and soon. He hoped it wouldn’t be his mind.

Batman appeared from some shadow. The typical magic trick. They nodded.

“Bertinelli.”

“Bertinelli.” Gordon crossed his arms. “How’d that snake slither out of this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, we can’t collect ammunition in the background any longer. A case like Arturo doesn’t come around every day. We have to make a play, and he’s our biggest piece. He won’t leave town for a few days. As long as he’s on American soil, we might be able to keep him.”

Batman said nothing.

Gordon cracked his knuckles. “I say we swing for the fences. We have your old files from the Fort. We have Arturo’s little diary of sins. We have the records from your Admiral. We know Walter Brown deals with the Families. Falcone’s not around to rescue anyone, so the bosses are as fractured as we could hope. Let’s play all our cards. Throw as much mud around as we can. Maybe we’ll take someone down, but at least we’ll get people talking.”

“I support that.”

“Great.”

“But I can’t be here to help.”

Gordon was so stunned, he didn’t lose his expression for several seconds. “Uh … Why?”

“Even if we get Arturo on the stand, we may not be able to turn him. I believe a bigger threat than losing him is the federal government’s ongoing use of the Families. If they feel their tool is in danger, the authorities may step in and challenge any legal attack we could mount. We do have some leverage against the government, you’re right, but I want more.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“I just found another angle to work this case. It’s urgent, so I’ll be busy.”

“Fine, then I want in. What’s the angle?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

Gordon was tired, so he assumed he heard Batman incorrectly. “Excuse me?”

“I said you wouldn’t understand. It’s not a Gotham issue.”

“Try me.”

“Fine. I met a woman who used to work with the military.”

“Okay.”

“She’s a princess from a country that doesn’t exist. She can bench press a car.”

“Uh-huh.”

“She knows an Air Force officer who can testify to Operation Underworld, plus a long list of other illicit federal activities. An actual friendly witness would be a tremendous benefit. If we can’t put him on the stand, we can get him in front of reporters. His words would serve as living corroboration to the paper evidence we already have. That’s a powerful combination. Better yet, we hold him as a threat to turn the government against the Families. If we can finally bring in that sort of support, our jobs become twice as easy.”

“Yeah? What do you need to do to get this officer?”

“Rescue him from an Argentine prison. He might be dead.”

“… Well, you’re right. I don’t understand.”

“It’s not a choice I make lightly.”

“Can’t it wait a few days?”

Batman grimaced. His tone changed. Less front-line commander, more philosopher-king. ‘“I’ve been thinking about all the collusion we’ve discovered. The deeper we look, the more crimes we find with public officials responsible. You know I loathe the Families, but in the long-term, we need to prepare for cases with felons in even more dangerous positions of power. This is a rare opportunity to pursue that.”

“An opportunity that might be dead.”

“I made a promise. If I broke the promise and showed my face again, the princess would kill me.”

“You made a promise to me! We promised to clean up Gotham.”

“I-”

“You’re the only one who might be able to discover why Arturo’s case is being heard in Canada before he’s gone. We both know there’s something seedy going on. We need to know who’s responsible so we can overturn it. That’s our real chance, ready here and now. Not some wild gamble.”

“I’ll be back to support you as soon as I can.”

“That’s it? You’re out of town for a little while?”

“You still have a good team, Sergeant Gordon. You’ll figure something out.”

“I guess we’ll see.”

“I’m sorry.”

Gordon cleaned his glasses on his shirt and walked away. “Me too.”

Batman let him have the last word and disappeared.

---​

Hours later. The roof across from Gotham City’s Argentinian Consulate.

Wonder Woman sat on the cold roof tiles and slowly lost her patience. It had been nearly twenty minutes since she was left alone here. She was fed up with being left alone.

“I’m back.”

She jumped to her feet and spun. Batman stood behind her. He had no special tools or armor tonight, and wore a cape again. She didn’t know him very well, but she had the sense that this look was most appropriate.

“Finally. Are we finished here?”

“We just got started.”

She crossed her arms. “You said you were going to enter that embassy and learn what the Argentinians know.”

“I said I was going to prepare to enter that consulate so we might learn what the Argentinians have shared with their foreign staff.”

“Consulate?”

“The embassy is in Washington D.C.”

“Then we should be there.”

“It’s easier to outwit security in places I know. I know Gotham.”

“Fine. What did you prepare?”

“Security’s as tight I suspected, so I cleared them out with some drastic measures.”

“Doing what?”

"I released termites."

"What?

“Gotham City enforces strict pest prevention laws. Any sign of a termite infestation in a structure over four stories tall requires immediate evacuation.”

“No, what are termites?”

“Insects that eat wood. Given time, they can put a hole in a load-bearing wall.”

“Great Hera. These termites can cause a building to fall?”

“Eventually, and towers here tend to be in close proximity, so one collapse can cause several others. Worse, with the scarcity of real estate and lax building codes, popular buildings are expanded until they merge with older buildings beside or beneath them. These become load-bearing buildings, but with a load they weren’t designed to support and managers who don’t know how to maintain them.”

“The inhabitants see the termites and fear the worst.”

“If termites are seen, it’s assumed a major colony is hidden in an unused part of the structure, and the entire block could collapse any minute.”

“Like dominoes.”

“I-”

“Cruel, uncompromising dominoes.”

“Sure.”

“But, wait. Is it so dangerous? Many buildings here are of stone. Stone is strong, and you say termites eat wood.”

“Termites in Gotham get ambitious.”

“So you went inside and let these termites be found?”

“I entered an unused floor and cut open a water pipe. The flooding will soak down to active floors any minute now. The occupants will see the flooding, investigate, and find the termites inside the wall with the pipe. This way I could release them without being seen, and the termites will be found in something approaching a natural setting. No hint of foul play. That’s crucial.”

“What if they aren't found? The termites are now a danger.”

“I only released twenty. That’s not many.”

“But they could multiply.”

“I only brought males.”

She gave him a strange look. “How do you know?”

“Special order from a very obsessive entomologist.”

Wonder Woman’s lips turned up in a smile. “But you repeat yourself.”

“What?”

“Oh. I guessed that an entomologist was a scholar of insects.”

“Yes.”

“I have heard it is humorous here to criticize scholars of obscure subjects.”

“I never thought so.”

“To be candid, neither did I. But I hoped humor would help foster our cooperation.”

Batman stared at her. “Let’s wait. Silently.”

They did. Minutes later, they heard an alarm from the consulate, and a thin stream of people fled the exits. Even at night, the building was busy, but not any longer.

Batman stood from his crouch. “We’ll have at least an hour before the inspectors and exterminators arrive.”

Wonder Woman watched the fleeing crowd with sudden concern. “All of these people are innocents.”

“Yes.”

“You interrupted their lives. You damaged their property.”

“Two hundred dollars in lost labor. Another thirty in repairs. The building management might be sued. Claims will cost insurance shareholders a few cents each.”

“You scared them.”

“And I scared them. I said it was a drastic measure.”

“It doesn’t distress you?”

“You want Trevor back? Then we’re on a deadline.” He climbed over the edge of the roof.

Wonder Woman said a silent prayer for both their souls and followed.

Simon_Jester
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-09-28 05:29am

:)

I needed that.

All the usual nice touches.
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

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FaxModem1
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by FaxModem1 » 2017-09-28 12:51pm

That was a fun chapter. I'm very curious what's going to happen.

Also, Wonder Woman and Batman as a team is very interesting.
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Stewart M
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Re: Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Post by Stewart M » 2017-10-03 06:44pm

Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx

Chapter 24: Una Casa Dividida​

Consulates usually served as a foreign nation’s lesser diplomatic sites following its embassy, but most consulates still merited their own exclusive building. This was for prestige and security and also legal simplicity since a consulate was sovereign territory. But in Gotham City, owning a building in an upscale neighborhood was beyond the budget of many countries, so consulates often rented sections of larger buildings. For instance, Gotham City’s Argentinian Consulate occupied floors nine and ten of the twenty story Bale Tower, a building which also housed apartments, restaurants, a golf equipment wholesaler, a recording studio, a private detective agency, Gotham City’s Peruvian Consulate, and a perfume shop.

Strictly speaking, consular employees didn’t need to obey city laws. No official could force them to follow public health ordinances regarding, say, mandatory inspections or evacuations. City Hall acknowledged this. As a show of good faith, the city distributed gift baskets to all new diplomatic guests with special photo albums. These albums were filled with tragic photographs of ruined husks of buildings with captions like ‘smoking near gas stove’, ‘overflowing sewer’, and ‘rats’. Gotham’s consulates tended to toe the line when it came to municipal codes.

And so, when Batman and Wonder Woman crossed to the roof of the Bale Tower atop a pneumatic mail tube, they had every expectation that the Argentinian Consulate would be abandoned. As they entered a stairwell, Batman turned to Wonder Woman and held out a camera and a pair of a gloves. She hung the camera around her neck but only stared at the gloves.

He pushed them closer. “Put these on.”

“Why?”

“So you don’t leave fingerprints.”

“Fingerprints?”

“Touching something with your hands leaves an impression. An investigator can find these impressions and match them to you.”

Wonder Woman was offended. “I don’t touch things that hard!”

“The impression isn’t from crushing the object. Your fingers always produce a fine layer of sweat. This sweat sticks to surfaces in the unique shape of your fingertips, like ink from a stamp. Someone with a record of your fingerprints can recognize these shapes and identify where you’ve been.”

“Then the gloves are unneeded. I am a visitor. No one has my fingerprints.”

“I do.”

“What? No. How?”

He dropped the gloves into her hand. “I’m Batman.”

As they descended the stairs, Batman offered a quick tutorial on using a camera. Wonder Woman told him that she had used a camera before. He asked if she had practice using a flash bulb, and she said she had not. He asked if she had photographed pages of text, and she said she had not. He asked if she had replaced rolls of film, and she said she had not. So Batman offered a quick tutorial on using a camera.

When they reached the top floor of the Argentinian Consulate, Batman picked the lock on the stairwell door. As he worked, Wonder Woman had an expression like she wanted to ask a question, but she kept silent. When Batman was finished, he angled a mirror under the door, then, satisfied, he pressed it open a crack, eyed the surroundings, and slipped through. She followed.

The office had an Old World touch. The décor was trimmed in brass and wood, and there were oil paintings and chandeliers. The small night staff didn’t use the entire suite, so only a few rooms were lit. Still, Batman and Wonder Woman split up and crept through every room of the Consulate’s two floors to look for stragglers.

Batman knew the names of the consul-general and his main deputy, and he recognized their offices as he passed. When he and Wonder Woman determined the area was abandoned, he directed her to the deputy’s office with simple instructions.

“Look for recently opened mail. Also look for files marked secret or classified.”

“I believe that would be secreto or-”

“Fine. When you’re finished, leave everything exactly how you found it.”

“How will I know if-”

Before she could finish, Batman had disappeared. He entered the consul-general’s office and quickly walked the room, pulling out papers which he laid in two tall piles on a table. Holding the camera in one hand, he photographed the sheet atop the left pile while reading the sheet atop the right pile. When he finishing either, he laid that sheet aside and started on the next one. His Spanish was rusty, so he was able to photograph five sheets in the time he could read one. This was partly balanced by the need to swap film, which he also performed without looking. In this fashion, he processed both piles in several minutes. He returned each document to where it belonged and closed the door behind him.

Earlier, he had discovered other eminent offices and an archives that looked promising. He searched each of these as well, committing every interesting record to film or memory with assembly line speed. When ran out of film, he continued with his eyes alone.

After fifty minutes, Batman’s sense of time twinged and drew him out of his investigative trance. He found Wonder Woman still in the deputy’s office. She was also reading. Her camera hung from her neck.

“You used all eight rolls of film?”

“No, the second roll jammed in the mechanism. I tried to dislodge it and something snapped inside.”

“Fine. Let’s go.”

She replaced her reading materials. They traveled to the stairwell, and Batman used his picks to lock the door behind them. As they climbed, they began to hear voices many floors below. But the pair reached the roof without delay and crossed the pneumatic mail pipe to the anonymity of the city.

“As they fled, Wonder Woman said, “I didn’t see any mention of Steve or any similar subjects. Did you discover anything worthwhile?”

Batman responded, “I’m thinking.”

“Are you thinking of a paper you discovered that would advance our mission?”

“I’m thinking.”

“Batman, I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“When we entered the Consulate, how were you able to remove that lock?”

“I picked it.”

“How fortuitous. I would have thought the Argentinians picked it.”

He paused and looked at her blankly for a moment. “No, I used a locksmithing tool known as a pick to simulate the action of a key.”

“Can this pick simulate other keys as well?”

“Most of them.”

“Merciful Minerva! That is a precious treasure. Did your magistrate bestow it for your civic duties?”

“No. I bought mine.”

“You can buy picks at a store?

“Yes.”

“They must cost a queenly sum.”

“Not especially. Most people can afford a set.”

Wonder Woman pondered this for a minute, then she spread her arms and cried, “Then why have locks?”

---​

Meanwhile, sixteen blocks away.

Detective Andy Mack was the most experienced detective in the GCPD River and Maritime Patrol’s Homicide Squad. In his four years on the Squad, exactly one of his arrests was convicted of homicide. He had earned his promotion to detective when a city councilman hit his cousin with a car. Mack was a trustworthy sort. He always showed up on time and usually sober.

Currently, he was asleep in his small apartment. There was a knock at his door.

Detective Mack, clad in underwear and socks, grabbed his service weapon and opened the door. Outside stood Sergeant James Gordon.

Detective Mack lowered his weapon. “Sergeant, what are you doing here?”

Gordon chuckled. “Yeah, good to see you too. Can I come in?”

“Uh, sure. Are you okay, Sergeant?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

They stood in Mack’s cramped apartment. Without invitation, Gordon sat in the only chair. “Listen, Mack, I’ve got a favor to ask of you.”

Detective Mack tried to holster his sidearm, then remembered he was in his underwear, so he dropped it on his dresser instead. “Of course. Whatever you need, Sergeant.”

“Mack, you’re the best man in my squad.”

“Ah, you’re just being nice.”

“No, it’s true. Not saying much, but it’s true. So I need your help today in a big way.”

“What’s going on?”

“First, I need to sleep in this chair tonight. I don’t have time to get home.”

“Okay, I guess.”

“Good. I can’t work today. You need to lead the squad.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I need to take the day off. Just hold down the fort for me. Call it a field promotion.”

“Are you out of leave?”

“No, but I don’t want the captain to know I’m taking off. Get it?”

“Uh-”

“Now listen carefully. Call my wife when you get in and tell her I’ve been working a big case all night. I’ll write down her number.”

“Your wife?”

“Yeah, tell her I’m still working on the case, so I’ll be out of touch. Then tell the squad that they have to keep quiet about me being off today. I don’t care what you say. Just make sure that’s understood. Anyone asks, I’m with you guys all day chasing killer fish or whatever. That’s very important. If you all can cover for me, I’ll approve every leave request you folks submit for the next month. But if anyone rats me out, you all get nothing but me in a foul mood. Understand?”

“I think so.”

“Good. Let’s get some sleep. Don’t wait up for me in the morning. I’ll see myself out.” Gordon began to remove his shoes. “Oh, and fair warning, Detective. I snore.”

---​

Just down the street from the Bale Tower was a photography shop, now closed for the night. Batman entered and led Wonder Woman to a dark room in the back. Wonder Woman noted that under the room’s dim red light, Batman was only a black shape. His monochrome impression was so complete that he seemed two-dimensional, and when he moved it was almost an optical illusion. She saw that she seemed pale and bleak, but roughly like herself. Batman had become a different creature entirely, a specter.

Batman clearly knew the equipment. He removed their many spools of negatives and fed them one-by-one them through an enlarger. He adjusted the knobs until the bright images projected on its easel were legible. He read through these projected images, reading them.

After he read many projections, she asked. “Any discoveries?”

He answered, “I’m thinking.”

After he read all the projections, she asked, “How about now?”

Batman sat up from the enlarger and pulled the last negatives out. He began to put everything away.

“There was one reference to your Captain Trevor. A memo dated the week after the party confirmed a few details that were already in the news, namely that the shooter was taken into custody.”

Wonder Woman grabbed her hair and nearly shouted, “That’s it? That’s what took so much thinking?”

“No-”

“This is the mighty skill of the World’s Greatest Detective?”

“After one day into a case on another continent? Yes.

“I’m-”

“There’s a theme in the papers that took me time to interpret. The Argentine Foreign Ministry sends out official memos, but the consular staff also receive private letters from colleagues at home with uncensored opinions. The difference between the official notices and the privates letters might reveal what the government is trying to hide, even from itself.”

“And this is helpful?”

“I’m guessing the government in your country is very stable.”

“My mother’s royal mandate is unquestioned. Any thought to the contrary would be obscene.”

“Most countries aren’t so content. Argentina endured a military coup only a decade ago. Typically, new leaders that take power through violence are themselves challenged in short order, either by the old regime or another faction from the inside.”

“Man’s violent ambition begets itself. This is no surprise.”

“A usurper usually needs support from existing government bodies to overthrow the leader, so leaders are sensitive to the loyalty of their troops and bureaucrats. In the papers we found, I sensed a growing divide over Argentina’s foreign policy. Officially, the government is neutral, but evidently large parts of the military say they want to side with the Axis powers.”

“So?”

Batman, a monochrome void under the red light, started to pace, and his voice grew animated. “Politics is a game of appearances. The side that appears confident and righteous wins support, while the side that appears desperate and immoral loses it. These private letters prove that Carlos Salazar was strongly suspected within diplomatic circles to have Axis connections. Since an American killed him in Argentina in broad daylight, it looks like America is ignoring Argentine sovereignty to strike at her rivals. This makes the neutrality advocates look like American stooges, and the Axis supporters look like patriots.”

“Oh.” Wonder Woman said, ashamed.

“I would expect an assassin to face a simple trial and execution by now. That always plays well with the crowds.”

“But he hasn’t been executed.”

“Not publicly, at least. Maybe the leaders are worried that it would be another propaganda victory for the Axis supporters. Or perhaps the US government already bought him back.”

“But wouldn’t hiding or releasing a killer show weakness? A disdain for the rule of law?”

“Absolutely. The Argentinian leaders may feel they’re in a no-win situation. Or perhaps Trevor’s being hidden by these Axis supporters to make the leaders look bad. In either case, they sound like a major threat.”

“How does all your speculation help us find Steve?”

“If Argentina is so close to throwing in with the fascists, I suspect Washington is paying the country far more attention than most people assume.” Batman paused and paced a lap in silence. “There was another theme I found in the papers. A few figures in the consulate had surprisingly positive things to say about the United States. If Argentina feels vulnerable because their neutrality is interpreted as befriending America, their strongest option might be to befriend America.”

“That would be an absurd reaction.”

“That’s politics. Or, just as likely, the US has been secret allies with Argentina all along, and that’s what inspired the upstart Axis support in the first place.”

“Amanda Waller did seem certain that she could help me find Steve, but since my ship exploded, I no longer trust her integrity.”

“That’s a wise attitude. Still, we should make one last stop before we head south.”

---​

Later that morning. The District Attorney's Office.

Assistant District Attorney Harvey Dent had a strict routine on days when he wasn’t in court. He woke before dawn, lifted weights, showered, ate a hearty breakfast, read the paper on the train to the office, reviewed his mail, lifted weights in his office, reviewed his caseload, attended his first meeting of the day, did paperwork, attended his second meeting of the day, and crept out for a late-morning snack at the bagel shop around the corner (he needed the energy for his afternoon weightlifting).

Dent was at the counter, making change for his bagel, when he heard someone call at him from one of the tables in the back. “Hey, Mr. District Attorney!”

Dent turned to the caller, a middle-aged man with glasses and a mustache. Dent called back, “Yeah?”

“Mind if we talk for a second?”

Dent considered this. The man seemed harmless, and Dent usually stayed to eat his bagel anyway. “All right.” He walked to the man’s table. “What can I do for you?”

When he sat down, the man briefly slid a badge over the table. “My name’s Sergeant James Gordon.”

Dent was delighted. “Hey, I’ve heard of you. Hero cop, Jim Gordon. You’ve done some good work! Boys like you keep us prosecutors in business. Aren’t you part of some special vigilante task force now?”

Gordon looked uncomfortable. “Actually, I’ve just been moved to lead a homicide squad.”

“Brilliant.”

“For the River and Maritime Patrol.”

“Oh.” Dent scratched the back of his neck. “They have a homicide squad?”

Gordon rubbed his temples. “Let me get to the point, Mr. Dent. I’ve heard of you as well, and I regret we couldn’t meet under more agreeable circumstances.”

“Well, as much as I love joining in a little mutual admiration club, how did you know I come here?”

“I was on the way to your office, and I guess I just saw the signs.” Gordon pointed to the window where there were large signs posted of Dent smiling. A caption below each picture read ‘Favorite bagels of ADA Harvey Dent, twice voted Gotham’s most trusted civil servant!’.

Gordon shrugged. “So I came inside, and the man told me you stop in every morning.”

“What?” Dent turned and yelled at the old cashier. “Mevlin! You can’t be telling people I come here every morning!”

Melvin waved his arms at the rebuke. “What? He’s a customer. Besides, he’s got a cop-face.”

“You’re going to be the death of me, Melvin.”

“Stick it up your ear.”

“Whatever.” Dent turned back to Gordon. “Where were we?”

Gordon leaned forward. “I heard about you sending Arturo Bertinelli up north.”

Dent’s friendly demeanor turned flat then cagey in two heartbeats. The man had mean face, the sort that came out of nowhere. “Yeah?”

“Listen, I don’t know what they told you, but Bertinelli used to be my case.”

Dent squinted. “No, they didn’t tell me that.”

Gordon leaned forward further. “We cops like to chat, Mr. Dent. You have a reputation for not giving a solitary damn about City Hall or those big white shoe firms or which defendants have high friends or deep pockets. You play square.”

“I thought the cops didn’t like me much.”

“That’s what I just said.”

Dent didn’t respond.

Gordon continued. “You know perfectly well that Arturo Bertinelli has no business in Canada. He belongs in your court in this city. Then he belongs in an American prison.”

“I don’t know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t the time or the place to discuss this, Sergeant.” Dent stood and turned toward the door.

Gordon slapped the table. “Listen here! I’m out of time. If you’re half the public servant they slap on posters, you’re going to suck it up and put some skin on the line. We need to talk.”

Dent glared at Gordon, but he eventually straightened his tie and called out, “Hey Melvin!”

Melvin called back. “Yeah?”

“Do me a favor.” Dent pulled a quarter out of his pocket and flicked it across the room. “Close the shop for a few minutes. Go buy yourself a shoe shine and a paper. Keep the change.”

Melvin bounced the coin in his palm. “Whatever you say, pal.” He flipped the Closed sign on his door and walked out.

Dent sat back down, a pile of suspicion and nerves. “Fine. Here I am.”

“Lovely.” And with that, Gordon laid out what he knew. Not everything, of course. He made excuses for points that otherwise tied to Batman or any malfeasance on his team’s part. This was no easy proposition. Harvey Dent was a courtroom attorney of staggering skill, conditioned to sniff out half-truths and rip them open like an angry dog. Most days this would worry Gordon. But Gordon had polished these lies for years; keeping stories straight was a major part of his routine. Eat, sleep, lie – that was his life. You didn’t make it far in the GCPD unless you could duck and weave on the witness stand, but Gordon was even better at it than most. And finally, he didn’t worry because he was sick and tired of the fight. He’d been so tired lately that most mornings he could hardly stand. He didn’t worry because he didn’t feel much of anything.

Gordon started with all of Arturo Bertinelli’s domestic crimes involving the Ukrainian slave ring, several of which weren’t listed on his formal charges. He described Arturo’s hidden book of records under Carlo’s bar, which described these crimes and others in detail, and implicated a dozen associates along the way. He explained how he knew Walter Brown was the messenger between the Families and the Mayor’s office, and how he suspected that Walter was somehow involved in shielding Arturo from prosecution. He said all this and more, while Dent hardly said a word.

“-And that’s why I need to know, Dent: why’d you really pass Bertinelli along to the Canadians? Whatever it is, we need to find a way around it.”

Dent folded his hands. “You’re right. I made that decision under duress. It has no basis in procedure.”

“The Bertinellis put the squeeze on you? We can-”

“No.” Dent shook his head. “My boss did.”

“The District Attorney? Then why hand you Bertinelli in the first place?”

“It wasn’t his idea.” And with that, Dent shared the story of the meeting at the Cafe Ensoleillee. He described how he met Carmine Falcone, and also Walter Brown, and some Navy man as well. Gordon's ears perked up at that last guest, but he kept his mouth shut. Dent explained that the Mayor’s office was trying every carrot and stick they had to keep the District Attorney playing along, and the Distract Attorney would rip the case out of Dent’s hands, fire him, and sue him for defamation if Dent so much as blinked off-script.

“You see, I’m just a spokesman. My hands are tied”

“You’re saying there’s nothing you can do, Mr. Dent?”

Dent had the decency to look him in eye. “There's nothing anyone can do. I sympathize. Really.”

Gordon sighed and stood up. “If that’s how it’s got to be.”

“You want my advice? Don’t make waves. These bigwigs threw a lot of weight around to save Arturo. That can’t afford to do that forever. You wait for the good pitches, Gordon. Sooner or later another greaseball is going to slip up.”

Gordon put his hat back on. “I’m not going to last that long, Mr. Dent. Good day.”

---​

The Rio Apiculata garrison. Argentina.

Cool Valdivian rainforests covered much of southern Chile, from the Pacific coast inland to the Argentine border. But the forests didn’t trace the border perfectly, and a few lush regions could be found within the Argentine frontier. These lands were largely unsettled, and outposts of the Argentine military were among the few inhabitants. Relations were Chile were friendly, so these outposts were neither large nor active. The Rio Apiculata garrison was even more remote than most. It sat on the horseshoe bend of a river, and the forest was thin around it. The site was protected by a tower and a low wooden wall. Inside were lines of simple wooden buildings. One larger building near the center of camp was distinguished by a lock on its door and a permanent guard. This was the garrison’s stockades. Argentina was at peace, so the stockades usually housed its own soldiers for petty insubordination and the like, not groups of Chilean scouts as the builders intended.

Lately, however, the stockades had been cleared of its few usual residents. Any misbehaving troops were punished elsewhere until further notice. The stockades’ only occupant was Captain Steven Trevor. He had arrived one early night in a delirious fever. The fever had continued for hours, only to finally break near dawn. Captain Trevor slept long into the next day. He awoke to find himself in a locked room – a depressingly common occurrence in his life – and he was only visited by a sternly silent medic who checked his health, brought him meals, and led him outside to a basin of cold water to bathe. There was nothing to see outside, just a tiny yard surrounded by a palisade of rough-cut tree trunks. He often heard voices beyond, but never enough to make sense.

Time soon slipped into a seamless whole, but after many days of this routine, he was brought to meet the Colonel.

That was how the man introduced himself: El Coronel. Steve was escorted into a chair across a table from him in a new room of the little prison. Laying on the table near the Colonel was a large knife. They were left alone. Steve’s first impression of Colonel was that he seemed familiar. He was a plain-faced old man in an immaculate uniform. He had nearly no hair and his knuckles were sharp peaks against the thin skin of his hands.

Steve nodded. “Hola, Coronel.”

“Hello to you, Captain Trevor. I would wish to speak my English with you, please. I recall your Spanish is not so perfect, and I would find the effort of listening tiresome.”

“Okay.” Steve tried to hide his shock. “What would you like to talk about?”

“You do not remember me, no? This is no surprise. Your mind has suffered much, and I was not often seeing you before.”

“I don’t recall.”

“Then I shall share my memory for you. After you shot Ambassador Carlos Salazar of Spain, you were taken to a prison outside of Buenos Aries. There, three men were assigned to break you and gain a, uh, a speaking. A confessional.”

“A confession?”

“Just so, yes. I was one of those three men.”

“Oh.”

“You are valiant, señor. You would not break under terrible abuse for two days. That is most exceptional.”

“What about the third day?”

“The third day you sang like a bird. Many truths and probably many lies, as is common. You said you were an American soldier, yes, a captain, and your name is Steven Archibald Trevor, and you said the names of your comrades, and your old missions, and many other things besides. Some quite incredible. But do not be concerned. When you said these things, only I and these two other men were in the room. I knew these two men to hold the wrong sympathies. So before they could tell anyone else what you said, I killed them,” he pointed at the table. “With this knife.”

“… Thanks?”

“Es no mucho. After that I made sure you were sent far away, to a stronghold secured by trusted men. I did not see you again.”

“If I may ask, Colonel, what do you mean by ‘wrong sympathies’?”

“Ah, a keen ear, yes! You do make a good spy!”

Steve rubbed his forehead. “I told you I was a spy?”

“A good spy, yes. And now we know you were not boastful.”

“Great.”

“Yes, these two men I knew to hold the wrong sympathies. You once said that you killed this Salazar because he was Hitler’s servant. I am impressed that you Yankees learned of the rumor, but it was a popular belief here. This Salazar conspired with our officers frequently. He had a circle of good friends, and these friends had friends, and your two tormentors I killed were among them.”

Steve winced at a memory. “Figures.”

“With Salazar dead, these officers made a great noise and won many new friends. Your next steps were surely up the stairs of the noose. But Carlos Salazar was not the only man with friends. I helped move you in secret, to be kept by loyal hands. It was the least I could do.”

“Why? I never did anything for you.”

The Colonel smiled. “I had met Carlos Salazar several times, and each time I wanted to kill him myself. He may be Hitler’s pet, and many of our soldiers may take up his cause, but never me, not for all the power or treasure in the world. Do you know why?”

“No.”

“My mother was a Jew. I have wanted to share this truth for a very long time. I hope you will keep my secret.”

“Of course.”

“Very good. Not that you could spread my secret if you wished. The opposition learned of your first stronghold, and you were nearly stolen, so I have been doubly cautious this time. We must keep you here, out of sight, until we can decide what to do with you.”

“I don’t suppose you could ship me back to America? They’ll probably send me to shoot more Nazis if you do.”

The Colonel laughed. “No. You are still a killer, mi amigo. You shot an ambassador, no? We will deal with you when times are more, uh, appropriate. I only wanted to offer you my private gratitude. In another life, I believe you would be a hero in my country.”

“You’re welcome, I guess.”

“Yes, good. But now we must talk serious. When we brought you to your first stronghold, my comrades were soon attacked by three men of an impossible size. They were giants! And very strong. They stole you into the mountains like bandits. Our men found you alone in the snow, frozen near to death. One of the giants was dead beside you, with many bullets shot in his back. You had a pistol, but the bullets in his wounds were from a different weapon. Do you care to explain?”

“Colonel, my memory is a little foggy.”

“Foggy?”

“Weak.”

“Ah.”

“I think they were German. They were speaking German. I remember that.”

“Indeed. And what killed the large man near you?”

“I’m not sure with my foggy memory.”

“Was it an ally? An American? I have many suspicions that some of my men have sold news of you to the Americans.”

“Sure, Colonel. I was abducted my some magical Germans on the exact day some Americans had also come to rescue me. And after they shot Jerry, they just left me to die in the snow.”

“My English is not so perfect, Captain. Was that, uh, sarcasm?”

“… No.”

“Well, we talk later if you remember more. You will return to your room now. Would you like something to read? You may be here for a long time.”

“Got any comic books?”

---​

The White House. Washington D.C.

Amanda Waller stood at the head of a long table. There were twice as many stars on the uniforms of the men seated before her than could be found in any other room in America. She had been here before, but never to lead a meeting. There was a large map of South America behind her.

“Gentlemen, Mr. President, I understand your subordinates have briefed you on why we’re here, so I won’t belabor that. Instead, I’ll get straight to what I want to do about it.”

---​

Hours later. A military airfield in Texas.

Wise men have described war as months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. Much of those months of boredom are spent cleaning and inspecting weapons. But inspecting one’s weapon need not be boring. In fact, the last inspection before a mission is often a ritual of sharp anxiety.

The forty-three men of the First Special Platoon were some of the most decorated of their generation. Together, they had seen more action than any comparable unit of any combat arm of the military. Still, most of them felt a low rumble in their guts as they checked their equipment. Some seasoned warriors stopped feeling anything before battle, but this was usually a bad sign. Folk wisdom said the best soldiers never lost the buzz entirely. Fear kept you sharp if you knew how to use it.

Lieutenant Slade Wilson inspected each round before he slipped them into his bandoleers. He still felt the buzz.

Private Floyd Lawton practiced quick-drawing his pistol at a hazard sign on the wall. He felt nothing.

---​

The White House.

“-A hop to Panama then down to a landing strip owned by some friends in Chile.” The men travel east on foot. We have strong intelligence that Captain Trevor is being held in a small, lightly-manned fort a scant few miles over the border in Argentina. With our equal or superior numbers, far superior training, and the element of surprise, our forces should swiftly breach the fort and recover our target. It’s doubtful the fort has radios, and we can easily cut any telegraph lines in advance of the attack, leaving the defenders isolated. Even if they manage to call for help, the nearest reinforcements are hours away. I expect minimal casualties.”

---​

A military airfield in Texas.

It had been an impressively simple matter for the quartermaster to gather a platoon’s worth of older South American rifles on short notice - just a few calls to local dealers and collectors. This was Texas, after all. Anyone who stumbled across their little arsenal could easily believe it belonged to some band guerrillas out of the Andes.

The men of the First Special Platoon, all hobby shooters or hunters of some variety, could easily acquaint themselves with unfamiliar weapons. Still, they had only two days for practice. That wasn't much. And they were all concerned at the lack of machine guns, mortars, and other proper infantry tools. You did not want to be the side that showed up to war without machine guns.

---​
Gotham City.

Sergeant James Gordon could hear Officer Renee Montoya’s home before he saw it. It was a three story townhouse, one of many on the modest, unremarkable street. But where most of the townhouses housed perhaps a dozen residents, often two or three families together, he knew Montoya’s townhouse only housed the Montoyas, and there were at least twenty of them. Montoya rarely opened up about her family life, but over the years, Gordon had collected hints that Montoya shared her home with her parents, two sisters, a brother, a pair of grandparents, a great-grandmother, a few aunts and uncle, a few cousins, and enough nieces, nephews, and second cousins to fill a baseball team.

Even clean cops in Gotham routinely used the badge to avoid petty ordinances. It was an open secret in the Department that Montoya used hers to flout occupancy limits and noise complaints, no matter how many letters her neighbors wrote.

The sun was red in the sky when Gordon knocked on her door. A little boy, perhaps nine, opened it. Gordon crouched down and smiled. “Hey there, sport. Is Officer Montoya home?”

The boy called back into the house, “Tía Renee! There’s a bum here for you!”

Gordon frowned. A smattering of excited Spanish echoed through the house. Officer Montoya appeared racing down a staircase, narrowly beating several young men who wore mean expressions. She reached the ground floor and turned around, shooing them back with vigor. The young men gave Gordon a sour look but retreated. Officer Montoya patted the boy on the head and ordered him down a hall.

Gordon nodded at her. “Montoya.” She was in a simple blouse and skirt. He couldn’t recall seeing her dressed as a civilian before.

Montoya caught her breath and planted her hands on her hips. “Sergeant Gordon. What a surprise.”

“Could we go somewhere alone, please?”

“No problem.”

Montoya led him through the house to a back door. They passed several figures of various ages, all with a resemblance to her. Gordon nodded and offered each a quick hello. They all looked at him suspiciously. Behind the house was a little gated courtyard. She closed the back door and leaned against it.

“Long time no see.”

“No kidding.”

“What’s going on, Sergeant? You look like dog food. No, you look like something they wouldn’t make into dog food.”

“Thanks.”

“What did you do today?”

“Walked. It helps me think.”

“I heard about Bertinelli. What’s the plan? Do we get the team together?”

“No time. And no point. There’s no legal angle on this, Montoya. We can’t win the way we want.” He lowered his voice. “But maybe we can still win.”

“What can we do?”

“Not we, just you.”

“Me?”

“I can only see one good way to end this. It’s not pretty, and it all comes down to you.”

---​

Hours later. The Fremont Hotel. Washington D.C.

Amanda Waller faced her reflection in the little bathroom mirror. After leaving the White House, she had spent the evening pampering herself. She enjoyed a spa and massage, then dinner at a fine colored restaurant. Finally, she saw a movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It was very entertaining. Now she sat brushing her hair with a new ivory hairbrush.

Waller glared into the mirror. “I will stop you. And if you don’t surrender, I will kill you.”

She heard a laugh over her shoulder. “Ah, my little untermensch. You are a credit to your people. I’ve enjoyed this much more than I expected. Do not worry. It will all be finished soon.”

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